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'In God We Trust' leads to debate

KLAMATH FALLS — Not everyone agrees with the motto "In God We Trust." And a contingent of Klamath County residents doesn't want to see it on the commissioners' hearing room wall.

"If 'In God We Trust' is going to be placed on that wall, shall we then place 'Allahu Akbar' on this wall for our Muslim citizens? Or 'Yahweh is God, you shall have no other god before him' on that wall for our Jewish citizens? Or 'We bow down to our Mother Earth at this time of solstice' on the back wall for our Wiccan citizens? Then we have the Buddhists, the Baha'i, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Orthodox Catholics and so on.

"God knows what we'll do with the atheists," said Trish Seiler, Klamath Falls City Councilwoman. "Choosing one faith over another by placing the proposed plaque in this room is not only unconstitutional, it is morally wrong. It is not the American way."

Seiler joined about 40 other citizens who attended a town hall Tuesday evening hosted by the county commissioners. The commissioners didn't set an agenda or topics for the meeting, but the majority of people spoke about the "In God We Trust" issue.

At the end of December, commission chairman Tom Mallams suggested putting the words "In God We Trust" on the wall of the public hearing room. It has come up several times in meetings since, mostly with citizens speaking in favor of the motto. At Tuesday's meeting, the tune changed, and more spoke against it.

"I am a Christian. I love my God and I love my government for giving me the constitutional right that it gives me. I don't want my government — federal, state or county — to tell me how to love my God, or tell others to do so or do not," said Austin Folnagy, a homeowner in Klamath County and member of the Klamath Community College board.

He said he wanted to attract more homeowners to the area, and he thought the "In God We Trust" sign would hinder that.

"I want young families and young people to come and fall in love with this county," he said. "I want that regardless of their race, their religion or creed."

Seiler also urged the commissioners to focus on economic development, job creation, efficient government and other issues that would help unite the community, not divide it.

"This issue is dividing our community," she said. "We need to work on issues that bring us together."

Commissioners said they were surprised the "In God We Trust" issue became the dominant topic Tuesday evening. They had anticipated talking about the county budget, or public safety. But "In God We Trust" came up again and again.

The issue brought forth arguments about the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.

"The Founding Fathers felt very strongly we need to have a moral compass of some sort. They didn't say 'In God We Trust' the God of the Bible or the God of the Muslim faith," Mallams said, adding he believed the motto didn't violate church and state division. "Even atheism is considered a religion by many now."

Bellet said he didn't see a problem with putting the words on the wall.

"It's on all our money, it's on all our coinage," he said. "I don't see anything wrong with putting it on a government building."