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Next church-state dispute: 'In God We Trust'

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The Davidson County debate over "In God We Trust" started in 2002. That's when Rick Lanier suggested posting the phrase on the side of the government center. At the time, Mr. Lanier was a county commissioner and a member of a local ad hoc group called the US Motto Action Committee, which was offering to pay for the display.

Not everyone on the county commission thought it was a good idea. Critics said it would be viewed as an endorsement of religion. Some said the commission might get sued.

Lanier noted that in 1956 Congress designated "In God We Trust" as the national motto. After nearly 50 years, he said, what judge would dare declare a local display of the national motto unconstitutional? The measure passed 4 to 2.

To Lanier and other supporters, the display was seen as a local response to the 9/11 terror attacks and an answer to a growing number of lawsuits seeking to remove any mention of God and religion from public life. "For the past three to four years we went from a gradual process with legal challenges from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and American Atheists to a fast-track effort to try to completely secularize our society," Lanier says.

He adds, "If you secularize and take God and our religious heritage out of [our society], then we open the door even wider to moral corruption and tearing down the very fiber that built this country."

Two local lawyers who conduct business in the county building objected to what they saw as the use of public property to present a religious message. "It is the semantic equivalent of putting up a sign that says Davidson County believes in the Christian God," says Michael Lea, a Thomasville, N.C., lawyer who filed suit with Charles Lambeth to have the display removed.

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