Galax City Council divided on In God We Trust

At the Oct. 12 Galax Virginia City Council meeting, a heated debate broke out when Galax Police Chief Rick Clark rose to address council regarding the “In God We Trust” project.

Two city council members objected to the motto, on both theological and secular grounds.

Clark said his intentions, along with those of the Carroll and Grayson sheriffs’ offices who are also adding the decals to cruisers, were to have the motto “as a constant reminder that we live in the greatest nation that ever existed in the history of mankind.”

During discussion, while Clark was still at the podium, Council Member John Garner — describing himself as a man of faith — objected strongly to the request. Garner praised Clark and the department, but said, “I think it’s wrong for secular reasons, and I think it’s wrong for theological reasons. I’m not trying to change what’s already on government buildings. But this has become a political issue. We are a multicultural society.”

Lazo, who also said he was a man of faith, added that “ I don’t want us to go any further in bringing church and state together. We worked really hard for 200 years to keep it separate. It was probably right to do it in 1954, and I like having it on our coins. I do believe in God and trust in God. But that was 1954.

“Back then, a black child couldn’t go to school with a white child. Homosexuality was a horrible sin. In 1954 we thought the Communists were going to take over the world. We were wrong about a lot of things then. It was right to put it on the coins at that time. But I don’t think it’s right anymore. I want everyone to be able to practice their faith any way they see fit – Muslims and Jews and Catholics and Baptists, just like John.”

Both of these council members should be applauded for taking an unpopular stand against this intrusion into our otherwise secular government.
We should send them a thank you letter telling them how much we appreciate their efforts.

John Garner P

Dr. Robert Lazo

If you are interested in writing to the rest of the council, you can find their complete contact information here.

After some further discussion, a motion to allow the resolution was passed 4-2, with Garner and Lazo objecting.

After the meeting, Garner and Clark were observed shaking hands and speaking in the hallway. “I have the utmost respect for both of them [Garner and Lazo],” Clark said later.

On Oct. 15, the decals were added to Galax city police cruisers, along with those of both Grayson and Carroll counties’ cruisers, in a brief ceremony on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


We have written the following to the entire council.

Council Members:

It has come to our attention that it is the intention of this governing body to prominently display the motto In God We Trust. We would like to make our dissent known and offer an alternative. First, however, let us introduce ourselves.

We are The Original Motto Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the prominent display of the Latin motto E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) as one that represents the truly inclusive nature of American society. Our message is one of inclusiveness: it takes all points of view, and sometimes the quarrels between those competing viewpoints, to make America the richly pluralistic society that it is.

In God We Trust, though it is currently enshrined by law as the official motto of the United States, is inherently divisive. Not only does it exclude a significant minority – i.e. the nonreligious – but it also excludes those religions that believe in multiple gods, as well as those that believe in none (like Buddhists). Furthermore, it is an unfortunate fact that many government agents and agencies who display the motto believe it to be an overt endorsement of Christian belief. When used in such a context, In God We Trust violates the most sacred of American principles: the separation of church and state.

E Pluribus Unum, we believe, is a motto that encapsulates the variety of experience and belief in this great country. It first appeared on the proposal for the seal of the United States in 1776, where it represented the union of colonies, who, despite deeply rooted differences amongst themselves, united to throw off the shackles of oppressive and arbitrary governance. The seal prominently displaying E Pluribus Unum was approved by congress in 1782.

While you may still choose, of course, to display the motto In God We Trust, we here at The Original Motto Project humbly ask that you consider a compromise that can satisfy both viewpoints on this issue: mount E Pluribus Unum (or its English equivalent) in an equally prominent and honorable place alongside In God We Trust.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Robert Ray

The Original Motto Project
As our Founding Fathers Intended!

Robert Ray

Robert is the founder of The Original Motto Project. He is a avid secular activist that likes to dabble into small electronics in his spare time. He and his wife Amy co-host the Secular Yakking podcast. He lives in the Puget sound with his wife and 3 daughters.