Ravalli County courts God 

On the day before Christmas Eve, Ravalli County Commissioners Alan Thompson and Betty Lund voted in favor of a proposal to hang plaques bearing the national motto—“In God We Trust”—on the walls of county government offices. Spencer Erickson, an Eagle Scout, had requested the motto be displayed on county buildings to fulfill a scouting project, and the commissioners agreed to accommodate his request.

Erickson said he got the idea from the website of the American Family Association—a fundamentalist Christian group whose mission statement says the group exists “to motivate and equip citizens to change the culture to reflect Biblical truth.” But in light of the action’s potential breach of the First Amendment, not everyone in town thinks it fitting to plaster the motto on government walls.

“I think it’s a grave error,” Stevensville attorney Judith Loring said. “It’s a religious phrase endorsing one religion over all others, and it leaves everybody else out in the cold.” Loring said approval of the motto is not the county’s responsibility, since it does not involve county government business.

Erickson’s father, Dallas Erickson, head of the organization Montana Help Our Moral Environment, has unsuccessfully sought since 1994 to make several anti-obscenity ordinances he authored for Ravalli County into law. In 2002, the Montana Supreme Court rejected the ordinances as unconstitutional.

ACLU of Montana Executive Director Scott Crichton said the motto initiative constitutes a new area of concern for county citizens and commissioners alike. He said that if the commissioners perceive the motto as a religious statement, then they are deliberately infusing religion into government. “If they are not taking it as a religious statement, then they are demeaning religion by making the slogan virtually meaningless,” he said.

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