Just days after city council members in Oregon shot down a proposal to put up an “In God We Trust” sign, their neighbors up north have done the same.
In Clark County, Washington, the crowd was overwhelmingly against the religious gesture and the elected officials followed suit:
After hearing about two hours of public testimony — during which about two-thirds of the speakers opposed the controversial proposal — [Councilor Tom] Mielke moved to display the national motto in the meeting room.
Councilor Jeanne Stewart, however, said while she would not be offended by the display, it was clear from the protests that some would feel uncomfortable coming to public meetings if “In God We Trust” was posted. Stewart pledged to oppose the motion to cheers and applause from the audience.
No one seconded Mielke’s motion to put up the sign, which effectively put the debate to rest.
This is why it’s so important to have a presence at these meetings. So many of these proposals pass because council members just assume everyone’s fine with it. They’re surprised that not everyone agrees with the sentiment. So a big tip of the hat to everyone who attended the meeting and spoke out against the display.
Brian Harvey, the Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry–Portland was the main organizer for this event and he told me via email why he thought it was successful. There were the obvious tactics…
1. We showed up in numbers. People were willing to speak out. Together, we have a voice.
2. Good coordination with local groups helped ensure a big turnout.
3. We alerted the media. This became a big, visible issue.
… and less obvious ones:
4. We attempted to avoid being cast as “angry and offended atheists” by framing our opposition as “We’re not mad, we’re disappointed.” Our claim was that since we live in an era marked by political division, politicians should be modeling and promoting unity now more than ever — not harming the community with divisive politics. By running for office they are making a claim that they are the best possible candidate for the position — is this really the best we can expect from them? The best they could be doing?
5. We tried to focus on calling for unity — in this case holding an ‘E Pluribus Unum’ Rally for Unity in the plaza outside the County building before the meeting.
6. Many, many local people spoke from their heart at the meeting. They told personal and emotional stories of feeling excluded. Ex: The 60-year old Buddhist who became a naturalized American citizen 35 years ago (Southeast Asia Emigrant), lived in Clark County for years, loved his country, always felt a little bit of an outsider, doesn’t have a god in his Buddhist belief system, would feel even more excluded if In God We Trust was posted on the wall. Ex: the retired marine servicewoman who was forced to have Roman Catholic listed as her religion on her dog tags because they wouldn’t put “atheist” on them — always made her feel like a little an outsider even as she was serving her country.
Harvey added that the last one may have been the most crucial since it “forced the Councilors to be faced with, and to come to terms with, how this affects their constituents in their everyday lives.”
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Ross for the link)