‘In God We Trust’ motto adopted by Princeton City Council

The Princeton City Council decided at its July 13 meeting to incorporate the “In God We Trust” motto as requested in early June by Cindy Pohlkamp, a representative of In God We Trust – America Inc. and the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute.
Since the request, the city staff had gathered some information for the council members, but they had not discussed or decided the matter. After talking about the possibility briefly, a 3-2 vote confirmed that Princeton will adopt the motto and place it on the wall of the City Council chamber, with the exact size and location of the phrase yet to be determined.
Mayor Paul Whitcomb and Council Members Jules Zimmer and Jack Edmonds voted to adopt the phrase as the city motto, while Council Members Thom Walker and Jeff Reynolds voted not to adopt it.
Pohlkamp had visited the Princeton City Council in June and asked it to consider joining the nationwide movement for cities and schools to formally adopt the motto “In God We Trust.” Pohlkamp said 53 cities and counties nationwide have joined the movement, including several in Minnesota such as Crow Wing County, Beltrami County, Elk River and Anoka.
City Administrator Mark Karnowski included a memo on research findings. He’d found there is a national movement for public entities to adopt the phrase, which became the national motto in 1956. The memo said it is the council’s decision to do it or not, but advice has been that it has been legally challenged – unsuccessfully so far – because the phrase can be “divisive to those who may have a different belief system or no belief system.”
Whitcomb said at the June meeting he is not opposed to the idea, but he wanted the city staff to do some research on the matter. He said during the most recent discussion he’s prayed about some of his council decisions and wasn’t afraid to admit that.
Zimmer began the conversation July 13 and said he’d be OK with the idea as long as it was not a “denominational deal.” He pointed out how “In God We Trust” is the national motto and appears on American money, among other official places.
“I’m not opposed to something like that,” he said.
Walker said his research of the motto request revealed that it does not have much to do with God or religion, just politics. He said he looked up Pohlkamp’s organization, the Pacific Justice Institute, and it professes to be a conservative political group pushing a legal cause. He said the organization is listed as a hate group against LGBTQ people.
The organization’s website bears the tagline “defending religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties without charge.” As one converse example, an April 2017 post on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website claims the Pacific Justice Institute is “an anti LGBT hate group.”
Walker reminded his fellow councilors that the chamber facility is shared with the school district and is the place where it has its meeting, too. He said affixing such a motto in a shared facility is a “slippery slope.”
Zimmer said he wasn’t there to debate but doesn’t think of the phrase that way at all. It consists of words not meant to be religious but to bring people encouragement as the country’s motto. He pointed out how Americans mention God during the Pledge of Allegiance, which everyone recites at the beginning of each council meeting.
Walker asked: “Who is God then? How do we express that?” He commented that the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t always have the reference to God in it. Walker claimed the phrase was added by a pastor as a way to “battle godless communists.”
“It means things to certain people,” Walker said, “and I think it’s a mistake to do it.”
Reynolds asked if “In God We Trust” became the motto of city, would it apply to all the people of the city of Princeton? He said he didn’t want to take a chance on alienating people.
Edmonds said if the phrase on the wall bothers someone, it’s their problem and not the council’s. He clarified that the city owns the building and the school district leases space, so it was technically a city decision to have the motto.
Edmonds said the motto is already a part of society and he does not consider it to be political. He added that a cooperative decision should be made as to the exact size and location of the motto.
Whitcomb said he sees the motto as separate from anything religious and agreed that anyone offended by it could look away. Whitcomb said to him, the words show that Princeton has a council trying to do the best for its people, and the motto is applicable to all because God loves everyone.