Federal Court Of Appeals Strikes Down Biblical Phrase As Ohio State Motto

Americans United Commends Court For Upholding Church-State Separation

Americans United for Separation of Church and State commended a federal appeals court ruling that struck down Ohio's state motto, "With God, all things are possible," for violating church-state separation.

In a 2-1 decision in ACLU v. Capitol Square, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the religious motto, which directly quotes the Bible's Book of Matthew (19:26), amounts to state endorsement of Christianity.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, praised the court for supporting the First Amendment.

"All the Constitution requires is for government to be neutral on religion," said Lynn. "Making scripture the state motto is obviously not government neutrality. This case was a no-brainer."

Judge Avern Cohn, writing for the court, said, "In the context in which the words of the motto are found -- as the words of Jesus speaking of salvation -- to a reasonable observer, they must be seen as advancing, or at a minimum, showing a 'particular affinity' for Christianity. Simply put, they are an endorsement of the Christian religion by the State of Ohio. No other interpretation in the context of their presence in the New Testament is possible."

The motto, first adopted by Ohio in 1959, was inspired by a New Testament quote which reads, "But Jesus beheld them and said unto them, with men this is impossible; but with God, all things are possible."

The case was brought by the Rev. Matthew Peterson, a Presbyterian minister in Cleveland, with assistance from the ACLU of Ohio. Today's decision overturns a 1998 Ohio district court ruling that the motto met constitutional standards so long as the state did not cite its biblical origin.

After the lower court's ruling, former Gov. George Voinovich (R) had a bronze plaque with the motto installed in a sidewalk leading up to the Statehouse. Voinovich, now a U.S. Senator, said he got the idea for the plaque while in India, where he saw a public building inscribed with the words, "Government Work is God's Work."

The court of appeals noted that many other states mention "God" in a variety of contexts, but Ohio is the only state that directly quotes the Christian Bible in its state motto.

"In sum, fairly read and understood, the State of Ohio has adopted a motto which crosses the line from evenhandedness toward all religions, to a preference for Christianity, in the form of Christian text," the court said. "Thus, it is an endorsement of Christianity by the State of Ohio."

Concluded AU's Lynn, "The state of Ohio, which represents a broad and diverse population of many faiths, has no business promoting the Christian Bible or giving it official recognition. As a minister, when I'm looking for spiritual guidance, the last place I'd look is to state government."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.