Sunday, February 13, 2011


'In God We Trust' promoter undeterred by opponents

12:22 AM PST on Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Jacquie Sullivan says her campaign, first and foremost, is about love of country.

Those working on her behalf are patriots, she says.

Sullivan, fueled by optimism and certainty and her religious upbringing, is attempting to persuade every city in the United States to post the national motto, "In God We Trust," in its council chambers.

She has been successful in Norco, which expects by Wednesday to be the first city in Riverside County to put such a sign on the wall. Eastvale's council considered the idea last week, San Bernardino County supervisors voted Dec. 14 to put the motto in their chamber, and the Yucaipa council has scheduled a vote for Monday.

"I felt it would be good for communities and good for our country as a whole," said Sullivan, 71, a four-term Bakersfield councilwoman and retired real estate agent.

So far, 165 municipalities -- including 79 in California -- have agreed.

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But even in some of those cities, residents spoke against the action. And a national organization tried to persuade Norco to reject Sullivan's proposition.

Sullivan said she was first exposed to religion as a 7-year-old when her grandmother took her to church and shared a love of singing hymns "at the top of her lungs."

"I believed everything I learned," Sullivan said in a phone interview. "And of course, it is the truth."

Decades later, Sullivan was sitting in her office listening to the radio -- a Friday afternoon, she recalled -- when a news report described protesters' efforts to remove "In God We Trust" from a public building.

The debate

"I was just offended that they were offended," Sullivan said. "I love the motto. It is very important to the history of the country. It immediately came to mind that they were working to take it down, and I would work to put it up."

She thought Bakersfield would be a good first test. In January 2002, her council colleagues voted to post the motto above the city seal.

"I just knew I had a pretty good idea," she said. "I felt it would be true across the country."

She founded In God We Trust America, a nonprofit organization to promote her mission, in 2004.

"In God We Trust" was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956. It is printed on currency and engraved on coins.

Some say endorsement of the motto by the federal government and cities such as Norco is unconstitutional.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national organization that counts thousands of atheists among its 25,000 members, says its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

In a letter to Norco Mayor Berwin Hanna, co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor urged council members to vote against the motto. She wrote that "the motto was first adopted during the Cold War as a reaction to the purported 'Godlessness' of Communism."

Nevertheless, Norco's council voted, 4-0, to post the motto. A sign is close to completion.

"I was thinking we need to get back to our basics and moral values in this country," Norco Councilman Harvey Sullivan said then. He proposed Norco's resolution. He is not related to Jacquie Sullivan.

In Orange County, when Fountain Valley's council decided to put up the sign in 2008, two council members dissented.

"This is not a place we should be discussing theology," Councilman Gus Ayer said then.

Jacquie Sullivan said opponents just don't understand.

" 'In God We Trust' is intended to encourage and inspire, which certainly we need," she said. "We are not promoting religion per se, but all that the motto stands for. We are promoting patriotism, which to me is love of God and love of country."

Patrick Elliott, a Freedom From Religion staff attorney, said many people who don't believe in God would object.

"She's redefining the term 'patriotism.' She's saying it is love of God. Twenty-five percent of our members are veterans, and I think they would disagree," said Elliott, speaking by phone from Madison, Wis.

He cautioned cities against posting the motto.

"They are going to be challenged," he said. "I think the courts will rightly judge these to be religious statements."

So far, that has not happened.

Last September, a federal judge dismissed a Freedom From Religion lawsuit that said engravings of "In God We Trust" and the "Pledge of Allegiance" at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center were unconstitutional.

The judge, without ruling on the merits of the argument, rejected the lawsuit because Freedom From Religion did not have legal standing to bring the claim.


Sullivan is undeterred by any objections. "They don't bother me at all," she said, referring to Freedom From Religion. "I'm very focused on what our mission is all about."

She acknowledges that few people have volunteered to assist her. Where Sullivan has people pushing her campaign, Arkansas (69 municipalities posting the motto) and Georgia (10), she has been especially successful.

Sullivan provides them with the e-mail packet she sent to every city council in California. It includes a sample resolution and a letter from the Pacific Justice Institute stating that the motto would pass a legal challenge.

"I consider them patriots," Sullivan said. "They love God and they love our country."

Derek Lopez, 39, is an unemployed former bank worker and self-described American history buff who has lived in Eastvale for six years. He telephoned Sullivan after listening to her promote the country's motto on a podcast. They spoke for two hours.

"She was so energetic," Lopez said. "It just really got me pumped up for what she was doing. I immediately wanted to jump on board."

Lopez has addressed council members in 4-month-old Eastvale several times about the motto. He said in a phone interview that he is optimistic.

"I wanted it to be part of the tapestry of national pride. ... Just be an all-American city."

Reach Brian Rokos at 951-368-9660 or

U.S. Motto

These Inland municipalities have approved posting "In God We Trust" in public buildings:




Chino Hills





San Bernardino County


These have discussed the proposal in public meetings:


Moreno Valley


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