Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld wants the national motto to be a permanent part of the décor in what he calls “the People’s Chamber.”
Bredefeld says the display of “In God We Trust” in prominent letters on the Council Chamber’s main wall will be an inspiration to both decision-makers and residents.
A constitutional inspiration, the District 6 representative emphasizes.
“This is not about religion,” Bredefeld told me recently. “It’s not saying ‘in one religion we trust and in another one we don’t trust.’ It’s saying, ‘In God We Trust.’
“For me, what is exciting about the prospect of putting that in the chamber is this: For generations to come people who will be holding those positions of responsibility will look at that every day they go into that chamber and realize and recognize and remember that the decisions we make affect a lot of people. And it has to be much larger than ourselves when we’re making these decisions. We should be thinking about the overall impact and remembering that there’s a higher power in our lives, in our country. It’s about patriotism, and it’s remembering that this is a tremendous county, a tremendous state, a tremendous city.”
Bredefeld plans to bring a resolution to the council on May 11 that would encourage the public display of the national motto in the Council’s chambers at City Hall.
Bredefeld also wants support from the council and administration of Mayor Lee Brand to put the national motto on the wall behind the council dais. The wall is currently dominated by a large video screen and the name of the prevailing jurisdiction: “City of Fresno.”
If Bredefeld carries the day, the main wall will consist of video screen, “City of Fresno” and (in slightly smaller letters) “In God We Trust.”
“Fresno would be the largest city in California to do this,” Bredefeld said.
Bredefeld will bring a great deal of research to the council debate. In a report delivered to the council in March, Bredefeld noted that “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864, and has been on paper currency since 1957.
“In God We Trust,” Bredefeld wrote, was “adopted as the nation’s motto in 1956 as an alternative or replacement to the unofficial motto of E puribus unum, which was adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created and adopted in 1782.”
Bredefeld wrote that “In God We Trust” is engraved on the wall above the Speaker’s dais in the chamber of the House of Representatives. He wrote that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has supported the displaying of the national motto as long as it is not done solely for religious purposes.
Bredefeld gave me a copy of a three-page analysis by City Attorney Doug Sloan.
“Question: Will placing the expression ‘In God we trust’ on the wall behind the dais in Council Chambers violate the Establishment Clause of the United States and California Constitutions?”
“Answer: No, the government’s use of the expression ‘In God we trust’ is not a violation of the Establishment Clause because the expression is of a patriotic and ceremonial character, and has nothing to do with the establishment of a religion.”
Bredefeld learned that hundreds of communities throughout America have approved some type of prominent display of the national motto. He said more than 130 cities and counties in California have done so.
Bredefeld even has a three-minute video on YouTube explaining his proposal. It was shot at City Hall.
No matter where you stand on the issue, you’ll have to admit that Bredefeld does a first-class job of presenting his position in clear and easy-to-understand terms.
“I think when we see ‘In God We Trust,’ it’s remember that we ought to be trusting in God when we make the decisions we make,” Bredefeld told me.
A good portion of our interview concerned perhaps the most obvious question: What does “In God We Trust” mean?
“It alludes to the fact that we have rights granted to us by God,” Bredefeld said. “God is alluded to in the preamble of the constitution of the State of California. To me, it represents that we should be thinking about things outside of ourselves and remembering that we live in a great land and a great country, and we’re very blessed. All you have to do is look at the world, and some of the tragedies that we see every day. This is a country that is very blessed and a city and a state that are very blessed.
“I believe that those of us in elected positions of responsibility and leadership should consider that. I think that the further that we as a society have gotten away from God – whatever God means for people, and I know what it means for me – the further we’ve gotten away from God the more our society and country have slipped. And the more we incorporate something more powerful than us, something that has more meaning than just our basic everyday decisions, (the more) we tend to probably make better decisions when we’re making decisions that affect other people’s lives.”
Bredefeld knows that the word “God” in the national motto could be a key part of the May 11 debate.
“God, I think, is a very individual thing,” Bredefeld said. “That’s the beauty of our country. We can believe what we want to believe, and worship as we want to worship. That’s why it says, ‘In God We Trust.’ It doesn’t say, ‘In one religion we trust’ or ‘In that religion we trust.’ It says, ‘In God We Trust.’ For different people of different faiths, God means different things.
“But I think that when we all recognize there’s a higher power than us, there’s something much higher than us, something that has created this great planet that we live on and this great country. I think the more that we have God in our lives, the better off we are as a society. I know the better off I am as an individual, and I think the better I will be as somebody who has been elected to provide leadership in the city.”
I asked if “we” in the motto refers to everyone or only to those who voluntarily embrace the motto.
“I don’t think everybody believes in God,” Bredefeld said. “So, perhaps for them, ‘In God We Trust’ doesn’t have meaning. For me, ‘we’ refers generically to our country, our society, our city, our state. Our state in the preamble to our constitution mentions God. Now, does everybody believe in God? No. But I think many people do. I would venture to say probably the majority of people do. ‘In God We Trust,’ I think generically, refers to the majority of people who believe in some type of God and recognize that God has blessed our land, blessed our country, blessed our people. That’s why we have immigrants from all over the world that want to be here. When you believe in something higher than yourself, more powerful than yourself and recognize that something blessed this country, for me it’s God.”
I asked Bredefeld to give Fresnans a sense of the meaning of “trust” in the national motto.
“For me, trust in God means that I don’t always have all the answers – I will never have all the answers,” Bredefeld said. “My trust in God is that the more I can trust in God’s will, even though I may not understand it, that gives me peace. There are terrible things that happen. There are terrible things that happen in my life, things that I don’t understand, things that are very unfair. For me, God gives me comfort. There’s a trust that God loves me, loves everybody in the world. And even though I may not always understand God’s will and the terrible things that happen to people in other countries and in this country, I still have faith in God. That faith is what gets me through some very tough times.”
Bredefeld said he is reaching out to churches, temples and mosques throughout Fresno as May 11 approaches.
“We’re receiving tremendous support,” Bredefeld said. “People love the notion of bringing the national motto into the council chamber – into The People’s Chamber.”