CVAAS Statement on “In God we trust” for Fresno

Recently, Fresno City Council member Garry Bredefeld (Fresno district 6) has proposed that the words, “In God we trust” (IGWT) be placed on the wall of the Fresno City Council chambers, behind the dais just under the words, “City of Fresno”.

QUICK FACTS:
  • Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld wants “In God we trust” placed on the wall of the Fresno City Council chambers.
  • CVAAS members believe that this motto is divisive, and would prefer to use the Great Seal of the United States, or “E Pluribus Unum” – our country’s original motto, found on the Great Seal.
  • CVAAS is proposing to match private funding in order to install “E Pluribus Unum” on the wall of the Fresno Council Chambers.
  • CVAAS has started a GOFUNDME campaign to raise this funding.
  • Discuss this on Facebook, in our group, or on Reddit.
  • Read our Press Release – sent to all local news outlets.
This is now on the Fresno City Council agenda for May 11th.

In a recent response to a letter in the Fresno Bee, Mr. Bredefeld spoke about how IGWT is our national motto, signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956. He states that Congress reaffirmed IGWT as our national motto. He tells us that this motto has been on our currency for over 150 years and writes that lots of municipalities in California have adopted it.

He also tells us that this has been litigated “numerous times” and has always been determined to be legal, every time.

He stresses that IGWT isn’t about choosing one religion over another, and he wouldn’t support that.

Bredefeld also states that “Every time before we begin our council meeting, a religious leader leads the Council and people in the Chamber in prayer.” And then he states that bringing IGWT into the Council Chamber is NOT about bringing religion into the Council Chamber.

Mr. Bredefeld wrote: “It is about faith and while I do believe in God, I support everyone’s right to believe or not believe as they want to.”

Image of Bredefeld's writing in the Fresno Bee.  Click to enlarge.

Bredefeld’s response in the Fresno Bee. Click to enlarge.

There is so much to respond to here.  There are several points that should be addressed.

First, the obvious question is, “Why now?” Fresno’s newest city hall was completed in 1991. Why has Fresno waited for 26 years before deciding to add the national motto? What motivated Bredefeld to act now?

Mr. Bredefeld has partially answered this question in his YouTube video when he stated that he was encouraged to make his proposal by Bakersfield City councilmember Jacquie Sullivan. But in that video, he leaves out the reason Ms. Sullivan suggested this.

Ms. Sullivan suggested installing IGWT because she makes this same suggestion to cities across the United States. She does this endlessly as the founder and leader of her nonprofit organization, “In God We Trust – America”. According to her nonprofit’s latest financial statement to the IRS, she spends 70 hours a week advocating the installation of IGWT to cities and municipalities across the nation.

70 hours a week? Ms. Sullivan is a Bakersfield City Council member and has been re-elected to that position for 5 terms! But perhaps Bakersfield doesn’t require much attention from their city council members.

This leads to another question, how many hours a week is Mr. Bredefeld spending on advocating the installation of IGWT? Is this interfering with his other duties?

Another possible answer to “why now” might be due to Mr. Bredefeld’s relationship with the rest of the Fresno City Council. Bredefeld is the only sitting city councilmember who is on the hook for spearheading the approval of the Grizzlies downtown stadium. Initial projections for the stadium were optimistic, and the stadium is indeed beautiful. But financially it has been a very costly problem for the City of Fresno. It would be advantageous to Bredefeld to have his name associated with something more positive than this financial drain on Fresno.

Next, let’s investigate the history of our national motto.

The Great Seal of the United States

Our nation’s first national motto appears on the Great Seal of the United States. Adopted by Congress in 1789 and first used by George Washington, the Great Seal bears our nation’s first motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” Which means, “Out of many, one”. This is an inclusive motto that indicates the very diverse citizens of America have come together to form one nation. It leaves no one out.

E Pluribus Unum has been required on all U.S. coins by law since 1873, it has been on dollar bills since 1935 and first appeared on coins in 1795. This motto was on money 60 years before IGWT was added to our money.

Fear has driven America to add God to our money and to make it our national motto. Fear that any failure of our nation would be attributed to our insufficient devotion to God.

In 1861, just after the outbreak of the American Civil War, the minister Reverend Watkinson of Pennsylvania wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury begging that God should be added to coins. He did so because he was afraid that if America was divided by the civil war, history would judge that it was because our nation did not sufficiently recognize God.  Secretary Chase agreed and started the process to get Congress to act.

In 1956 the United States officially adopted “In God we trust” to be our official motto, mostly to distinguish ourselves from the Soviet Union and “godless” Communism. The “Red Scare” and McCarthyism drove a lot of fear of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the cold war. It was thought that use of this motto would somehow make our country stronger. In 1957 our newest motto first started appearing on paper currency.

“In God we trust” has been adjudicated by lower courts and found to be lawful.  But not because of God.

The ruling from Aronow v. United States (9th Circuit Court of Appeals) stated that IGWT is not a First Amendment issue since it has nothing to do with the establishment of religion.  “Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character.”  It “has no theological or ritualistic impact.”  The Supreme Court upheld this ruling by declining to hear its appeal.

In the ruling from O’Hair v. Blumenthal (5th District Court, Austin Texas) it was ruled that the motto “In God we trust” “is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.” “the primary purpose of the slogan was secular; it served a secular ceremonial purpose.” 

The reason “In God we trust” is lawful in the United States, the reason its use is not an Establishment Clause issue, is because courts have ruled that it is only of a patriotic or ceremonial nature. It has no connection with any deity, God, or gods.  As a patriotic statement, it is theologically meaningless.

This leads to another question for Mr. Bredefeld. What does he mean when he advocates “In God we trust?”  Is this merely a bit of secular, ceremonial patriotism, or does Mr. Bredefeld have a theologically meaningful reason for installing this statement in the Fresno City Hall? Because one is allowed by the courts, and the other is a violation of the First Amendment.

Perhaps “In God we trust” is ceremonially and theologically equivalent to “E Pluribus Unum.”  However, it certainly isn’t as patriotic as “E Pluribus Unum” since it leaves out a portion of the United States population.  It leaves out some of Fresno’s citizens.

Let’s speak about the demographics of the City of Fresno.

According to the US Census, there are over 360 thousand adults in Fresno. It is difficult to pin down the size of the secular population in the United States, but according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, and according to a recent University of Kentucky study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, it is statistically reasonable to predict that there are between 11 thousand to 40 thousand atheists in Fresno. That number doubles if you count agnostics.

Even supposing that Fresno is more conservative than the rest of the United States, and cutting those numbers in half, the results still easily outnumber the attendance of all United Methodist Churches in Fresno.

Why would the Fresno City Council exclude such a large portion of Fresno’s population?

And as Mr. Bredefeld himself has indicated, Fresno IS excluding this portion of its population. As he stated in the Fresno Bee, “Every time before we begin our council meeting, a religious leader leads the Council and people in the Chamber in prayer.”
In prayer
Prayer is not a non-partisan invocation, and according to Mr. Bredefeld, the City Council does not invite non-religious leaders to speak.

The intent is obviously exclusive. If you don’t like the prayer, as Mr. Bredefeld says you can exclude yourself.  If you are non-religious, then the Fresno City Council is giving a clear indication that you are not as important as those who believe in a deity.

How can an atheist, or someone of a minority religion, expect a guarantee of being treated fairly by the Fresno City Council?

In his YouTube video, Mr. Bredefeld says, “It’s about faith. It’s about faith in God. It’s about patriotism. It’s about making sure we are always reminded in the Peoples Chamber that we consider God and those values when we’re making important decisions affecting this city.”

But it is not about all of Fresno’s citizens. Some are excluded. And Mr. Bredefeld’s words make a lie of the Court’s claim that this is a theologically meaningless statement.

CVAAS is very much in favor of elected officials making good decisions. And if a constant reminder of the deity that they worship is required to make good decisions, we respectfully suggest that they place that reminder where they might view it constantly, perhaps on their desk in front of them.  Not on the wall behind them – out of sight and mind.

The Board of the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics would like to make a counter-offer.

What including everyone might look like

Mr. Bredefeld has stated in the Fresno Bee that this sign would be installed using private money, not public funding.

CVAAS is prepared to match any funding provided by Ms. Sullivan’s “In God We Trust – America” nonprofit, up to the entire purchase price of the sign and its installation.  The matching money that we offer would be used to install either the Great Seal of the United States or our first motto, “E Pluribus Unum” in the Fresno City Council chambers, on the wall behind the dais.

Click to see our GoFundMeTo help us raise this funding, CVAAS has started a GoFundMe campaign.  Visit our campaign and drop a few dollars into it to show your support!

E Pluribus Unum is a patriotic statement that includes ALL the citizens of Fresno and excludes none of them. And by making this matching challenge, we also remove the financial difficulty of doing so.  “In God we trust” is not quite as patriotic, since it is inherently divisive.  

We are very interested to see if Mr. Bredefeld and the rest of the City Council of Fresno cares about all of the citizens of Fresno, or is interested in excluding some of Fresno’s citizens.