County to display 'In God we trust' motto
Residents upset issue was not on agenda
Klamath County Commissioners have agreed to place an “In God we
trust” sign in their meeting room, a year after the same issue
brought backlash from a number of residents.
Approved in a 2-1 vote during their regular meeting Tuesday, the
issue was not on the commissioners' published agenda but was
added briefly before the meeting by Commissioner Tom Mallams.
Mallams said, after conversations with state legislators the
night before, he was concerned about the overall direction state
and federal governments are headed in. In that light, he said
counter-measures, such as the sign, were needed to help
cultivate patriotism and a sense of cultural heritage.
“For our nation and our state as a whole, the attitudes seem to
be changing to a great extent and that bothers me, that bothers
me a lot,” he said. “I think we need to promote and to help
build back that higher level of national pride.”
Support, opposition in 2014
Mallams first brought up the issue of an “In God we trust” sign
at the end of 2014 and said there was a need to push back
against people and groups fighting to remove references to God
and religion from government establishments. No action was
taken, though residents expressed strong support and opposition
during a series of public meetings.
“Some of the citizens, vocal ones, have pushed God out of the
schools and out of our government,” Mallams said at the time. “I
think we need to put some of that back.”
When revisiting the issue Tuesday, Mallams said his proposal was
also to support “In God we trust” as the country's national
motto, which was approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955
and reaffirmed by Congress in 2011.
“Setting aside the religious aspects of this, the fact is that
it's our national motto,” he said. “It's just a very simple
national motto and I think that's where I'm focusing on.”
Fundraising group present
When the matter came to a vote, Mallams and Commissioner Jim
Bellet were in support, while Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris
was against. She said it is not because she is opposed to the
sign, but was opposed to making a decision without time to seek
advice from county staff and legal counsel first.
“This was added to our agenda at the very last minute, so I just
didn't have an opportunity to have some of the conversations
that I would have liked to had before a vote,” she said.
Morris also said she is in favor of posting a framed dollar bill
with the motto rather than a new sign.
With the issue not being published ahead of the meeting, public
comment was brief. A group of citizens who have been raising
funds for a sign since Mallams' initial proposal were present to
Carol Warren, who led fundraising efforts with husband David
Warren, said they gathered more than $2,000 in donations and
have found a local metalworker able to make the sign.
She said a conceptual design included a display roughly 4 feet
wide depicting the wilderness and landscape of Klamath County
under the words “In God we trust.”
“We can't have something simple,” she told commissioners. “The
people want to give you a treasure to keep for this county.”
Defending the county
Carol Warren said it is the goal for the sign to come at no cost
to taxpayers. She said, even if someone were to sue the county
over the issue, the Pacific Justice Institute, based in
Sacramento, has committed to defend the county — and any
municipality sued for an “In God we trust” or similar display —
at no cost.
Other supporters included Dawn Brown, who said she feels the
sign is “good and wholesome and worthy of being up.” Steve
Souder also said the sign is a reflection of the country's
“It's not like it's anything new, it's not like we're stuffing
anything down anybody's throat,” said Souder.
But many commenters on social media, who learned of the
commissioners' decision through local news outlets, said that is
exactly how they feel.
“What happened to separation of church and state?” asked Jason
G. when commenting on the Herald and News' Facebook page.
“Aside from this being embarrassing for our county and
potentially illegal, it is inviting legal blowback that will
just cost the taxpayers even more money,” said Chris D.
“If you're religious, why exactly do you need a sign in a
government building,” said Eric T. “Isn't it a personal thing
between you and your god? Why do you have a problem NOT having a
When Mallams first proposed the sign, opponents raised similar
concerns and said the phrase is not a universal expression of
faith but rather a singular representation of Judeo-Christian
beliefs. Among critics was Klamath Falls City Councilor Trish
Seiler, who called the proposal “unconstitutional” and “morally
After expressing her views during a public forum last year,
Seiler received an obscene, anonymous letter calling for her to
be beheaded by foreign terrorists. Seiler, in turn, referred to
the author as a terrorist and said the letter did not sway her
position on the issue.
When Seiler was informed of the county's decision Tuesday, and
the issue's abrupt addition to the agenda, she said it was an
example of “backhanded” politics.
“I find that to be a very sneaky way, a very unethical way, to
bypass the will of the majority of people in the county and to
bypass the constitution over separation of church and state,”
“Their willingness to stomp on the Constitution and the first
amendment with both feet just indicates to me they are unfit to
represent this county,” she continued.
Seiler said she remains opposed to an “In God we trust” sign and
said the county “needs to stay out of religion, and religion
stay out of government.”
When responding to criticisms that Tuesday's vote had been an
effort to sidestep opponents, Mallams said this was not the
case. He said the timing of adding the sign to the agenda may
have been inconvenient and he did feel it would have been better
to give residents earlier notice.
“I do regret not having it out there a little quicker,” he said.
He said, since the matter was raised in 2014, there has been a
great deal of public commentary and commissioners were not
making their decision without input to consider.
Mallams added he would still encourage public discussion, as a
future board of commissioners may decide to make a different
Commissioners are expected to approve a resolution at their next
meeting formalizing the vote to install the sign.
After the meeting was over, Mallams placed a bumper sticker with
“In God we trust” on the wall in the back of the room, where the
larger sign is intended to go. He and Bellet said this is
because commissioners need to be reminded of trusting a higher
power during a meeting.
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