Ohio's Religious Motto Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. Appeals Court

Church & State, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Ohio's Religious Motto Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. Appeals Court


Ohio's use of the phrase "With God, all things are possible" as the state motto violates the separation of church and state, a federal appeals court has held.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 April 25 that the motto is a quote from Jesus found in the New Testament and is thus an endorsement of Christianity. The passage in question comes from Matthew 19:26 and deals with one of the central teachings of Jesus on how one can get into Heaven.

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."

Continued Cohn, "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. Thus, it is an endorsement of Christianity by the State of Ohio."

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." It appears on some state letterhead and on tax returns.

In 1998 the motto was engraved into a bronze plaque and installed on a walkway leading into the statehouse in Columbus, the state capital. Then-Gov. George V. Voinovich said he took the action after a trade mission to India where he saw a public building displaying the words, "Government Work is God's Work. …

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