Court Rules for Ohio's Motto

Article excerpt

Ohio's state motto - "With God All Things Are Possible" - is constitutional, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

"The motto is merely a broadly worded expression of a religious/philosophical sentiment that happens to be widely shared by the citizens of Ohio," Judge David A. Nelson wrote in the majority opinion for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled 9-4 that Ohio's motto, first adopted in 1959, did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

That clause forbids Congress from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

The Ohio motto is a direct quote from Jesus, explaining salvation to his disciples in Matthew 19:26. However, the appeals court yesterday cited an extensive history of the clause in support of its decision "that in the age of Washington, Jefferson and Madison" the motto would not have been viewed as unconstitutional.

"The motto involves no coercion," Judge Nelson wrote. "It does not purport to compel belief or acquiescence. It does not command participation in any form of religious exercise."

The decision by the full 6th Circuit reverses an earlier 2-1 ruling by a panel of the appeals court. In April, that panel overturned a trial court and sided with the American Civil Liberties Union in holding the 4-decade-old motto unconstitutional as being "uniquely Christian." Judge Nelson had cast the dissenting vote in that decision.

The new ruling was hailed by Ohio officials.

"Today's court decision . . . is a victory for the people of our state and the traditions that bind us together," Republican Gov. Bob Taft said in a statement. "Our state motto has overwhelming support, and I'm pleased that we have survived this challenge."

The ruling "re-establishes Ohio's right to corporately recognize the potential of our people," Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell said.

"The motto, `With God All Things Are Possible,' was never intended to promote a specific religion or force certain beliefs on anyone," Mr. Blackwell said in a statement. "It does, however, remind Ohioans of something greater than ourselves, from which we may draw strength and comfort if we choose."

The ruling was also welcomed by religious conservatives.

"This is an important victory for freedom and a sound defeat for those who want to strip our nation of its religious heritage," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal organization based in Virginia Beach that specializes in defending religious expression. …