Ohio Motto Endorses Christianity, Says AU in Legal Brief
Ohio's use of the New Testament phrase, "With God All Things Are Possible," endorses Christianity and thus violates the separation of church and state, Americans United has advised the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, Americans United attorneys argue that the phrase has clear religious connotations, is not non-sectarian and that its use by the state furthers no secular purpose.
"The words of the Ohio state motto, properly understood, are undeniably Christian and theistic in nature," asserts the brief. "The motto ... is a direct quotation from the Gospel of Matthew in the Christian New Testament and is attributed to Jesus. As the [lower court] panel noted, `Ohio's is the only state motto which quotes directly from either the Old Testament or the New Testament of the Christian Bible.'"
Last April a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 that Ohio's use of the motto violates the separation of church and state. That ruling is now being examined by the entire 15-judge panel of the court, sitting en banc.
In the original decision, Judge Avern Cohn, writing for the court, observed, "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 from Matthew 19:26, which reads, "But Jesus beheld them and said unto them, with men this is impossible; but with God, all things are possible. …