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'God' Motto Ruled Unconstitutional

The Ohio state motto "With God, all things are possible," has been ruled unconstitutional.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the motto, taken directly from the Bible, appears to be a government endorsement of Christianity and violates the separation of church and state.

The decision is a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, which had asked the appeals court to overturn the 1998 ruling of a federal judge in Columbus. That ruling said that the state could display the motto so long as it did not cite the biblical origin.

The motto is a quote from Jesus Christ, in Matthew 19:26.

ACLU attorney Mark Cohn says the meaning of Tuesday's ruling is clear. "I read it to mean (the motto is) thrown out completely. It cannot be used by the state as its motto."

Cohn says the motto cannot be separated from its biblical context, which is Jesus teaching the disciples about salvation. "It's the story of the wealthy young prince who is asking Jesus how he can be assured of going to heaven. Jesus tells him to give up all his worldly possessions and follow him."

Republican Governor Bob Taft, announcing the state's intention to appeal the decision, promised to do "everything within my power to uphold and defend the motto."

"The state does not use the motto to promote or advance any single set of religious beliefs," says Taft. "For years our nation's currency has borne the phrase 'In God We Trust' and three federal circuit court decisions have upheld the constitutionality of that phrase's use."

The state of Ohio will appeal the ruling but is reviewing its options as to how that appeal will proceed. It could appeal the court's 2 to 1 ruling to the full, 13-judge appellate court, or, it could try to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery says the state will ask the 6th Circuit Court to delay enforcement of Tuesday's decision during any appeals process.

Writing a dissenting opinion, Appeals Court Judge David Nelson said he found Ohio's motto to be no more troubling than the words "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.

The state has argued that the motto does not compel people to believe anything and to some people, it would not have a religious connotation.

The motto was been on display since 1998 on a bronze plaque at the main entrance to the Statehouse in Columbus. Then-governor George Voinovich, now a U.S. Senator, said he got the idea to put the motto on display while on a trip to India. The Republican lawmaker got his inspiration from a building there which bore the phrase "Government Work is God's Work."

The ACLU and the plaintiff it represents, the Rev. Matthew Peterson, a Presbyterian minister in suburban Cleveland, objected to Ohio's use of the motto and challenged all of Ohio's official uses of the motto.

According to the ACLU, Peterson believes that separation of church and state is good for oranized religions as well as for the government. ACLU spokesman Chris Link says Peterson has been criticized by some within his church for taking this position and has asked the ACLU not to refer calls to him now.

The motto, first adopted in 1959, has appeared for years on some state reports, the stationery of the Ohio secretary of state, and on Ohio state tax returns.

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