Or Joe & Cathy’s Ungodly Patriotism
By John Earl
OC Voice Editor
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Congratulations, you guys down there,” Bakersfield City Councilmember, Jacquie Sullivan, said over the phone when reached by the OC Voice.
She must have been smiling from ear to ear, just like Jan Crouch on Trinity Broadcasting Network, when she rejoiced, in her bouncy Bakersfield country-style voice, “I just heard about it, that’s very exciting news.”
Sullivan is the founder of In God We Trust – America Inc., a non profit 503c3 organization formed in 2002 “To promote patriotism by encouraging elected city officials to display our national motto ‘In God We Trust’ in every city hall in America.”
She was talking about the April 7 vote by the Huntington Beach City Council to make “In God We Trust” the city’s new motto to be hung in the council chambers.
The council debate preceding the vote was a sectarian skirmish, ill-timed for Mayor Debbie Cook, a democrat, who wants to replace republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher next November to represent the 46th Congressional District,* where God and country are a normal part of political discourse and decision making.
In 2002, during her first one-year term as mayor (councilmembers rotate yearly to fill the position), Cook respected God and Country by keeping the two separate, as many believe that America’s most authoritative guide to law and order-the U.S. Constitution-requires elected officials to do-by not holding city sanctioned invocations.
Since starting her current term as mayor, however, Cook has followed tradition and the invocation is part of the city council’s official routine.
Cook, who told the Voice in a March interview that “I don’t talk about religion,” bristled when asked then if her change of heart had anything to do with her campaign for congress. “No! The Constitution has a prohibition against religious tests…So what was the next question you’re asking me,” she snapped.
But when questioning your opponent’s Christian and patriotic credentials might be a better way of defeating her in the election than filing frivolous lawsuits against her (for calling herself the mayor on the election ballot, as Rohrabacher’s friend, Mike Schroeder, did) or talking about your own record of service to your constituents, the God questions tend not to go away.
Just ask Rohrabacher, who knows how easily God and Country can keep you in office in the 46th if you use it to justify an illegal war, torturing prisoners and eliminating habeas corpus, all while evoking the “rule of law” to deport “illegal” immigrants and demanding amnesty for vigilante border patrol agents convicted and jailed for wrongfully shooting them.
Conflict of Interest
Besides penalizing vigilantes, the rule of law also prohibits non-profit groups like In God We Trust from mixing charitable and political goals. Curiously, however, the group’s web site cautions donors to follow rules based on language that closely follows federal campaign financing law.
“To comply with Federal law, we must use best efforts to obtain, maintain, and submit the name, mailing address, occupation and name of employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle,” the web site cautions.
That looks suspicious to H.B. resident Mark Bixby, the citizen watchdog who discovered the peculiarity. “[I]t’s clear to me that this organization also has a political agenda,” Bixby wrote in a mass e-mail, “Which also raises questions about their 501(c)(3) status.”
When asked why a charitable organization would cite federal election law, Sullivan said that she would “have to look at that,” adding that the group’s web site in continually being updated and improved.
Even more curious is the presence of Mark Abernathy on the In God We Trust executive board as its secretary. Abernathy happens to be the founder and president of Western Pacific Research Inc. (WPR), another Bakersfield based organization, which is “dedicated to electing Republicans to Federal, State and local areas of government,” according to one WPR web site, and “is involved with multiple organizations effectively promoting the beliefs of the Republican Party.”
WPR boasts of its involvement in all aspects of campaign organization, including campaign strategy, marketing and fundraising. “We identify opponent strengths and weaknesses, and create profiles of voter groups and undecided voters who can be targeted with specific messages,” it states on the group’s other web site.
WPR claims it played a pivotal role in the political success of many Republicans, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that it advises Sullivan and manages In God We Trust.
Abernathy did not respond to a Voice inquiry, but Sullivan, after acknowledging that “We’re kind of political, I guess, but we’re…just patriotic Americans,” denied that Abernathy was active with In God We Trust or that his involvement in it created any conflict of interest with the group’s non-profit status.
“Absolutely not at all…Mark happens to be one of the ones who helped me originally get the organization going. But… he’s not actively involved,” Sullivan insisted, adding that her group’s mission is solely to “promote patriotism by training elected officials to display the motto, In God We Trust.”
That goal has been realized in 31 California cities so far, including three now in Orange County. Starting March 8, Sullivan says, “Over a two week period I e-mailed our information to every city in Orange County,” for distribution to city councilmembers.
That information also cites court rulings that say the motto has become nothing more than “ceremonial deism” over time and does not violate the concept of separation of church and state embedded in the First Amendment.
Sullivan’s view is that “In both war and peace, these words have been a profound source of strength and guidance to many generations of Americans,” and that there’s nothing religious about the motto.
But the full history of America’s official motto goes back to 1776 when Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were appointed by the Continental Congress to a committee charged with designing the Great Seal of the United States. Franklin’s suggested motto for the seal, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God,” was rejected for “e pluribus unum,” Latin for “”One from many parts,” referring to the melding of the colonies into a single nation.
From that point on, any attempt to use God as a national motto had clear religious and political motivations. In 1864, In God We Trust appeared on coins intended to show that God was on the Union’s side in the Civil War.
In 1956 during the Cold War between “Atheistic Communism” and the “Christian Capitalism,” President Eisenhower signed a bill that officially adopted the words “In God We Trust” as the national motto. The action was part of a nationwide movement, previously featuring the political witch hunts of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, to stifle leftists and liberals by labeling them as subversives.
But fellow republicans and Rohrabacher allies Cathy Green and Joe Carchio, who put the motto proposal on the city council agenda at Sullivan’s behest, claim child-like ignorance of McCarthyism-“I was too little,” Green told the Voice-or of how the word God could possibly have anything to do with religion, or be used as a political ploy to damage Cook’s campaign.
“I don’t know why all the sudden this has become political,” Green told her council colleagues, “When invocation was removed, I didn’t attribute it to politics. When I brought it back (during her term as mayor), I didn’t attribute it to politics.”
Carchio, who is a Catholic but “not a real religious person,” told the Voice that, “It has nothing to do with religion.” As for using religion to hurt Cook’s campaign, “I never thought of it that way,” he said.
“It’s all about remembering,” Carchio said, awkwardly reading a prepared speech from the city council dais. “We have stop signs, street signs, speed signs. What does that remind us of?..It reminds me of the freedoms we have as Americans.”
For Councilmember Jill Hardy, who considers herself “very faithful,” it is impossible to equate the motto with patriotism or believe that God has nothing to do with religion. “I don’t think of America when I hear the words In God We Trust…If we want to be patriotic, why don’t we post ‘Proud to be American’ in our council chambers?”
The motto is either religious and not suited for a public building or political, she said. “And if it’s a political motivation, to me it’s taking the Lord’s name in vain and I absolutely oppose that.”
Mayor Pro-tem Keith Bohr objected to the divisiveness of the proposal. Most of the people who spoke during public comments and who wrote to the city council were opposed to it, although occasional rounds of applause from the audience seemed to favor the motto-helping to prove Bohr’s point.
Cook slammed the proposal. A motivating factor for the “first Americans to come over here,” she recalled from American history, was their rejection of the divine right of kings. “I think that Americans also reject the divine right of governments,” she said.
Why not unite people by citing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Gettysburg Address, Emancipation Proclamation or the Federalist Papers, Cook asked. “There are so many wonderful words that our early Americans put on paper and any of those would be much more patriotic than this.”
The motto was constitutional, she agreed, “but that doesn’t make it a wise idea. It’s a cheapening of religious faith,” and “absolutely being done for political reasons.”
Councilmember Gil Coerper reasoned that the motto would bring people together because he saw it in the Supreme Court. “Now, is that political,” he asked. “I think not,” he said, answering himself.
Then Coerper argued for more than 5 minutes in favor of a non-existent proposal to put the matter to an ad hoc committee, in the same way that Councilmembers Hansen and Green recently guided through a proposal for unlimited campaign contribution limits for city council candidates.
Cook made a substitute motion to turn the question over to the city’s Human Relations Task Force “in order to weigh exactly which patriotic message they would like to present to the people of Huntington Beach.”
Still confused, Coerper then tried to make his own substitute motion, but it was out of order because he mistakenly thought that Green’s original motion to adopt the motto had been defeated and that Cook’s motion was now the original.
Cook kindly explained that she had made her substitute motion so the matter is “not subject to political whims.”
Suddenly refocused, Coerper quickly assumed the mayor’s role that he once held prior to Cook’s current turn, saying, “Please vote,” to his colleagues.
After they did, Cook’s motion failed 4-3 and Green’s original motion passed 4-2-1 with Bohr abstaining.
*The 46th includes all of Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Seal Beach, Avalon, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates and parts of Long Beach, Westminster, Santa Ana and San Pedro.