Volunteer lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation will appear in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit this afternoon, in a challenge to the Ohio State Motto that began in over three years ago. The case will be argued by Cleveland attorney Marc Cohn, who together with Cleveland State University Law Professor Tom Buckley handled the case for Reverend Peterson and the ACLU. Both will be available for questions after the argument.
In July 1997, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of Cleveland Presbyterian Minister Matthew Peterson, contending that the state motto “With God All Things Are Possible” violates the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the state from endorsing or supporting religion.
In September 1998, a federal district court judge in Columbus ordered the state to stop citing the Gospel of Matthew as the source of the motto, but allowed the government to place a large seal bearing the motto on the statehouse grounds. The ACLU appealed that decision and in April 2000, a three judge panel of the Sixth Circuit overturned the lower court, and declared the motto unconstitutional. The state sought and obtained permission to present its case to the full thirteen judge appellate court. That argument will be held today.
At issue in the case is whether the motto, which was taken from the Gospel and represents a direct quote from Christ speaking on the subject of salvation, represents an endorsement of religion. The ACLU contends that the motto cannot be stripped from its original context, and that for people of faith it constitutes a statement rich in theological meaning.