CARTHAGE, Mo. —
A Springfield attorney’s request to post “In God We Trust” at the Jasper County Courthouse and the Joplin Courts Building has been approved by county commissioners.
No details have been decided on the where, how and how much. But the Jasper County Commission’s agreement makes it at least the fourth government entity in Southwest Missouri to approve Dee Wampler’s request. The attorney and author of the book, “One Nation Under God,” is working in tandem with a grass-roots national movement, started in California, that is asking elected officials to display the motto in government buildings.
In a letter to the commission, Wampler said the motto has been posted in about 200 public buildings so far and in Missouri, most recently in Branson, Marshfield and Buffalo.
Commissioners unanimously passed the request. Norman Rouse, legal counsel to the panel, said the action did not raise issues on the separation of church and state, because it followed a pattern already set by the federal government.
Noting Wampler’s letter to the panel, he cited the motto on some U.S. currency, and engraved on the wall in the chambers of U.S. House of Representatives.
“All religions have a God,” he said.
John Bartosh, presiding county commissioner, said the request was embraced by the commission “because we thought it was a good idea.
“We should have done it before, without anybody asking us,” he said.
Bartosh noted the commission did discuss the request with legal counsel, adding: “He didn’t see a problem, and we wanted to do it.”
Contacted by the Globe following the meeting, Bill Fleischaker, a Joplin attorney who has argued constitutional issues on behalf of a variety of groups, said a line is crossed even when governments “do a secular thing for religious purposes.”
“Dee is a friend of mine and I respect him a great deal, but this is an area where we disagree,” Fleischaker said.
Wampler, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, said he does not view the motto as a religious statement, but “as an endorsement of culture and tradition.
“It’s our national motto and it’s in federal statute. I think it’s to help keep the identity of the nation and to promote patriotism.”
He said some might view the move as divisive, but said he sees it as a recognition that Americans, though from all different walks of life, “once we get here, we’re all one.”
Fleischaker said government property “should not be used to promote a particular religious viewpoint, adding: “They’re not saying in Allah we trust, or in Buddha we trust, or so something for nonbelievers.
“Some guy could stand on the steps of the courthouse and hold up a sign that says ‘In God We Trust,’ and that would be fine,” he said. “That’s not a governmental action; this is, and that’s different.”
Wampler said city and county attorneys he has talked with have had no problem with the request.
The U.S. Supreme Court, on March 8, issued an order declining to review a challenge to the national motto, “In God We Trust.” Brought by prominent atheist Dr. Michael Newdow, the lawsuit alleged that the motto violated the religion clauses of the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit Court disagreed, ruling that the motto does not violate the Constitution because it is ceremonial and patriotic in nature.
Who is Dee Wampler?
Dee Wampler has written four books on criminal law. He also has authored “The Trial of Christ: A 20th Century Lawyer Defends Jesus” and “The Myth of Separation between Church and State.”