What’s missing from Miami-Dade County Commission meetings?
The motto “In God We Trust,” according to a resolution passed Thursday by a commission committee. The panel endorsed adding the national motto to above the county seal that hangs behind the dais where commissioners sit.
“We need all the help we can get,” Commissioner Juan C. Zapata said in support of the resolution during the economic development committee’s afternoon meeting. Added the committee’s chairwoman, outgoing Commissioner Lynda Bell: “Amen, brother.”
Miami-Dade is the latest government to consider adding the four-word slogan, which has been the subject of a national push by groups who claim religion is being stripped from public life. Civil-liberties groups have fought the push, saying it weakens the dividing line between church and state.
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Barbara Jordan, a Miami-Dade commissioner, touched on the potential for controversy during her remarks.
“I do trust in God,” she said. “But what came to my mind is, I don’t want to raise this whole religous thing as an issue.”
Jordan added to laughter: “But it’s on my money. And I trust my money.”
She ended up supporting the resolution, which passed unanimously and heads to the full 13-member commission for a vote. Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Jose “Pepe” Diaz were the original sponsors of the resolution, but Zapata, and Commisioners Bell, Audrey Edmonson and Javier Souto signed on as co-sponsors Thursday.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, issued a statement Thursday evening condemning the vote. “Whatever symbolic victory Commissioners feel they might secure by mandating that ‘In God We Trust’ be emblazoned above the dais may come at the cost of making some members of our community feel alienated and unwelcome by their own county government,” he wrote.
The resolution’s support in committee came a day after religious conservatives packed the commission chambers to oppose a proposed ordinance extending civil-liberty protections to transgender people. Two years ago, commissioners voted to reinstate a pre-meeting prayer under pressure from conservative groups.
With the invocation’s return in late 2012, religious tribute often marks the unofficial start of the day’s business when commissioners convene for their twice-monthly meetings. Michael Roan, a commission sergeant-at-arms and part-time pastor, is usually called on to deliver a prayer that tends to mix issues of the day with some Judeo-Christian verbiage.
“We ask that you remember those who have been sent overseas for the Ebola break-out,” Roan told the audience at the Sept. 16 meeting. “To the Great God of Israel, strong and mighty, unto you, Oh Lord, wise and full of grace … Father, we pray for the Board of County Commissioners.”
Florida adopted “In God We Trust” as its official motto in 2006. The phrase is most widely seen on U.S. currency. A Treasury Department history said the slogan debuted on U.S. coins during the Civil War, when then-Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase wrote to his mint director that, “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”
Miami-Dade’s proposed resolution states, “the motto ‘In God We Trust’ symbolizes the historic role of religion in our society, fosters patriotism, and expresses confidence in the future of our Nation, our State, and our County.”