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A Hope In The Unseen

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Karlina v. Board of Commissioners

The First Amendment of the Constitution begins with the words, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

In 1959, three years after Congress passed, President Eisenhower signed legislation making "In God We Trust" our national motto. This motto is quite similar to the motto that Springfield County is trying to adopt

The Board of Commissioners of Springfield County, at a regularly-scheduled board meeting, considered a proposed ordinance that would adopt the words, "In the LORD God We Trust" as the county motto and that would authorize the inscription of the phrase on the faÐ*ade over the main entrance to the Springfield County Government Center. Board members and members of the public rose to speak both in favor and against the proposal. William Karlina sued to stop the Springfield County from proceeding, on the grounds that the county ordinance violated the First Amendment.

The court finds that adopting the motto, "In the LORD God We Trust," violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

If we were to discuss whether or not different forms of coercion exist, then the motto would not be physically coercive, like that of Newdow v. Elk Grove School District where the policy and practice of teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance forced students to participate. But this motto does not command any participation in any form of religious exercise. However, it does emphasize a certain inclination for one religious denomination or sect over others. The word LORD capitalized means Jehovah in Hebrew, which was translated into Lord, and is understood as a replacement name for the Israelites God, Yahweh which appears in the Hebrew Bible. This is clearly a preference towards a majority religious denomination.

We can also apply the Lemon Test that states, "First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive entanglement with religion.

To have the words in inscription of the granite faÐ*ade of the County Government Building may influence the people of the public that there is not a secular purpose, especially when the motto favors a particular group. The only purpose is to give the Springfield County a motto, but the choice of words brings us to the second prong of the Lemon

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