Displaying “In God We Trust”approved by Lake Forest city council

LF Mayor Herzog

LF Mayor Herzog

For those waiting for the bottom line I’ll post it now. By a 3-2 split vote the Lake Forest city council debated and finally approved placement of a “In God We Trust” display inside the council chambers.

Council member Marcia Rudolph, champion of this agenda item was supported by Kathryn McCullough who seconded her motion. Newest council member Scott Voigts, a former Chapter Leader of the Christian Coalition, provided the critical third vote of acceptance.

Having attended over 100 Orange County city council meetings I am very familiar with “agenda management.” In this example the council action to vote on displaying the national motto was last on the 18 item agenda and was not actually decided until 11 PM last night.

“Agenda management,” controlled by the city manager, city clerk or mayor is where you decide which items follow the routine consent calendar. If you have a desire to limit or curtail public participation you make those of us in the audience wait for hours until we hear the staff presentation and are given time to express our positions, be it in favor of or opposition to the item under review. Mayor Peter Herzog was opposed to this pending action.  As such we waited four hours yesterday until this debate was finalized.

I will tip my hat to mayor Herzog. He went out of his way to encourage public participation throughout the evening offering to pull any item for discussion be it the routine consent calendar or any item on the agenda. The Mission Viejo city council majority should take a lesson from Peter’s compliance with the law as to permitting us to participate rather than being forced to jump over hurdles in our city, but I digress.

Prior to council debate we sat and listened for 30 minutes as nine speakers made passionate pleas in support or opposition to this pending vote.

The first speaker, Bruce Gleason from Villa Park, pointed out that 15 percent of Lake Forest residents have no faith. I believe he said he was connected to or simply referencing Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Joe Cosgrove mentioned a 1970 Court of Appeals case on this very issue where it was acknowledged that this is a patriotic expression and does not present an establishment challenge. He reminded us that in taking the oath we raise our right hand and state “so help me God.”

Gilbert note: While there is debate on the mandatory addition of those four words let me quote the following:

“President-elect Barack Obama has requested that the words “so help me God” be added to the end of the oath of office to be administered by Chief Justice John Roberts on Inauguration Day.”

Lake Forest resident Mark Muller said “it is a Christian symbol” stating that he found it offensive and asked “is this the City Council of Christ?”

He was followed by Carla Westfall, Secretary OC Chapter Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Carla said that the council “was not elected to speak on religious matters.” She called it a “ceremonial phrase” that has been “used and overused and lost it’s meaning.”

Mark Smith, another Lake Forest resident, after displaying a board with currency from the 1950’s without “In God We Trust” asked: “Which fictional God are we being asked to trust? The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus.”

Christopher McCullough told us of his three tours of duty in Vietnam and the reaction by non believers “when bullets started flying” and called out for God.

Vincent Burke, the final local resident to address the council said “I reject this notion that God does not exist” In responding to Mr. Smith’s display he informed us that “in 1865 ‘”In God We Trust” was placed on a two cent piece after the horrific war that split this country.”
Carly Hoff and Greg Golanske
, the other two speakers, supported the pending action.

Marsha followed by calling the question which was immediately seconded by Kathryn. When it was his turn to speak newest member Scott Voits read off a list of other Orange County cities that already display the motto. Sensing that council majority dialogue was going against him the mayor offered a second Motion, quickly seconded by the mayor pro tem to expand displays in a “motto wall” to be placed somewhere in the city. His alternate suggestion was seconded by mayor Pro-Tem Mark Tettemer. Peter surprised me by calling for the vote on his counter proposal prior to the original Motion. Failing to get a third vote he finally caved and called the question resulting in the 3-2 vote of approval.

While I will stay point I would be remise not to mention a comment by Peter that warranted follow up. Peter told us that Lake Forest has a motto. It was created soon after cityhood. Hmm. Why isn’t that stealth motto on display now?

About Larry Gilbert