Roy Exum: A Lesson From Mobile

Monday, June 30, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Several weeks ago the Mobile (Ala.) County Commission, by a vote of 2-to-1, approved a plaque to be displayed in the city’s Government Plaza that will read “In God We Trust.” Since then, there has been a persistent roar throughout the state between people who approve the sign and those who do not.

What is interesting is that with the heated outcry so easy to predict, why on earth did the three county commissioners ever invite such a fight? Before the vote was taken, nine people stood to make comments about the plaque and eight begged the commissioners not to do it, one a minister who admitted “I speak to you as a religious person who opposes this. The First Amendment keeps religion out of government and, most importantly, government out of religion,” Rhett Ellis told the group.

Amanda Scott, who identified herself as an atheist, said she urged the politicians to reject the display because “It will only serve to divide Mobile on religion when we are already so divided on other issues.” Scott suggested they instead adapt the Latin phrase, “E Pluribus Unum,” which translates to “out of many, one” or “one of many” but her plea fell on deaf ears.

Chuck VonDerAhe, a former Catholic priest who is also an atheist, suggested “In Our Citizens We Trust” or “In The Constitution We Trust” but Jerry Carl, a commissioner who voted for the plaque, disagreed, explaining that the word “God” could be anything.

“How does the word God apply to your life?” he asked, explaining that god to some might be money, a bottle of whiskey even, and that it didn’t necessarily mean the Christian God. “All of these religions we have were created by men,” he said, telling those in attendance the phrase was historic and that he "couldn’t understand how it would make anyone uncomfortable.”

David Underhill shook his head, saying when his turn came that the word “God” means a great deal to Muslims, Buddhists and atheists in Mobile. Then he asked the commission to imagine substituting the word God with “Allah” or “Great Spirit” and to “Be instructed by that squirming sensation, which is how people who don’t believe in the Christian God feel when they hear the word.”

According to a lengthy story on the state newspaper wire, Mobile commissioner Merceria Ludgood said she understood the discomfort. “I cannot in good conscience support this gesture. I believe our role is a secular one. I believe Government Plaza is the people’s house. All should feel comfortable. On a personal note, I’ve always found it interesting the things people do in the name of God. For me, it’s in God I trust. You cannot legislate morality.”

That’s when Commission President Connie Hudson called for support to approve the plaque. “This is the national motto approved by the federal government.” Noting it is printed on our currency, she added, “It’s not meant to be disrespectful.”

Since then the comments on the newspaper’s pages and on social media sites have been exactly what those in the room expected. The pandemonium has included such quips as “If folks actually ‘Trust in God,’ there’s no need to put a plaque on the wall … any wall” and “In God we trust’ should stay! If you don’t like it move to another country and practice your religion. We shouldn’t have to omit things to make you happy. Just leave!”

“It’s hard to argue with the logic. I personally don’t think it matters to the true Father. According to His Son, He’s not big on all that public-display stuff.”

One read, “Religious fools can put up whatever propaganda they want – it won’t sway thinking people. Non-religious people will only laugh when they see the proclamation. Being an atheist, I have little use for the religious, but I have known a few religious folk who impressed me with their belief. By their way of living, they showed their religious beliefs. They did not have to proclaim it with a sign. It was obvious they believed.”

Another: “Look around Alabama and see how many people proclaim their Christianity and then look how the poor, the sickly, and the weak are treated.”

There was this: “This is ridiculous They well know that it will bring a lawsuit which will inevitably be lost. A complete waste of our time and our money.”

So why did the Mobile County Commissioners ever dare such a slippery slope? There is a marvelous lesson to be learned and let’s hope our leaders will use their time and efforts much more wisely.

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