This Wednesday night, the public library in Freeport, Illinois will vote on whether or not to post “In God We Trust” in the building. (In 2017, the city council approved a plan that would allow public buildings and city-owned vehicles to post the Christian message if they wanted to.)
Mayor Jodi Miller recently wrote a piece for the Freeport Journal Standard endorsing the idea. That might not be all that surprising in a conservative area, but her arguments are just plain bizarre.
Here’s the one that really got to me:
The original purpose of this phrase was to express unity. Let’s not allow division to take place any longer. The motto should unify our diversity.
How ignorant do you have to be to think a religious phrase — that, in government settings, is almost always endorsed by conservative Christians — is unifying? That makes as much sense as saying, “We have a lot of religious diversity in this country, but we’re all worship Jesus.”
There’s nothing unifying about a phrase that tells atheists and other non-religious people they’re not part of the community. Furthermore, when she brings up “division,” she’s referring to people who want a separation of church and state, not people who want to divide the town just for the hell of it.
Miller’s other big argument is that there’s really no opposition to this move:
At no time during that entire process [in which the city council authorized public display of “In God We Trust”] did anyone come forward with any objections. We did receive one letter of objection after the passage. A news release was sent out and by the end of the year over $8,000 of donations were received for this effort.
We have had no objections to any of the installations on the other city buildings until the library installation date was scheduled. At that time, we began to receive objections from various parts of the community.
Miller assumes she hasn’t heard objections because no one has any. She doesn’t realize that opponents may be afraid to speak up because of people like her. It’s dangerous for secular people to publicly push back against the wishes of the religious majority, especially when there’s a lot at stake for their reputation. Many would rather stay silent than paint a target on their backs.
But one of the commenters underneath that opinion piece actually pointed out a different reason no one objected to the library’s actions. Check out what Barbara Vines said:
The only reason no objection was voiced prior to placement of the existing plaques and lettering is because you failed to notify the public of the agenda item. You acknowledged this during the June 11 Board of Trustees meeting. You acknowledged that oversight.
It wasn’t just a “group of citizens” who approached to request the previous placements. It was the hate group Concerned Women For America, whose regressive agenda includes opposing anti-bullying programs in schools, opposing the Violence Against Women act, and stripping same-sex couples of marriage rights.
YOU took the lead in soliciting donations in their name, an act that was both ethically and legally questionable.
The posting of the motto has been highly divisive. I [and] others who voiced opposition have received threats, been told to leave the country, called such names as “Satan’s Bride”, “Satan’s *****”, and a “Christless ****” (rhymes with hunt). There are hundreds of very nasty, vulgar responses documented on Facebook persons in favor of the plaques.
A library should be a symbol of free thought and neutrality. How do you think Freeport’s gay and lesbian community must feel about their taxes going to fund slogans which were promoted by a group that seeks to strip them of our civil rights? Do not let the hate group tag yet another building with their religious graffiti.
Wow. Talk about a mic drop. There was so much in that comment that wasn’t included in Miller’s piece that I reached out to Vines last night to get a better sense of the opposition.
In fact, said Vines, at the last board meeting, six people spoke out (in person) against the phrase — even more did so in writing — while Miller herself was the only person who promoted the idea. (See what happens when the public is made aware of the issue well before a vote takes place?)
The Board actually tried voting to approve the religious phrase that night… but the result was a 4-4 tie. One person was absent. They decided to table further discussion and a revote until the next meeting — the one this week.
Also, Vines is right to say it’s not just some “group of citizens” promoting the phrase. It’s the conservative Christian group “Concerned Women of America” — and Miller knows this because she told people, from her official Facebook page, to send donations to the group:
It’s never good when a mayor is telling citizens to donate to a organization whose goal is “impacting the culture for Christ through education and public policy.”
Vines also said that if the Board was persuaded by the amount of donations made to put the phrase in the building, there were undoubtedly people who would contribute to removing “In God We Trust” from public buildings and replacing it with “positive non-religious” messages instead. (She’s right. I would absolutely contribute to that fund.)
So what Miller claimed was a perfectly secular, popular, reasonable idea is nothing more than a loud faith-based minority seeking to mark their territory with God’s name.
By the way, Miller also noted that the law has permitted the godly phrase in public spaces, as if that makes it okay. It’s true that lawsuits against the phrase wouldn’t be successful unless there was a clear indication that the goal was to promote religion, which is why everyone just uses the Motto Defense. But this isn’t about a potential legal battle. This is about representing the community — the whole community — instead of just the Christians who visit the library.
The meeting is still days away, so feel free to let the Library Board know how you feel about the religious phrase. And if you live in Freeport, go to the board’s meeting on Wednesday and make your case in person.
At the very least, sign this Change.org petition trying to convince the board to vote down this awful idea.
There’s no reason to ruin an otherwise excellent library by tagging it as if only Christians are welcome inside.
(Thanks to David for the link)