On the surface, it seems a bit odd: A retired minister taking aim at the inclusion of "in God we trust" on a county seal. But that's exactly what's going on in Penney Farms, Florida, where the Rev. Harry Parrott is accusing local officials of "crossing the line."
The former minister's contentions are rooted in the fact that the county recently decided to add "in God we Trust" to its official seal. Parrott, the president of his local chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS), a church-state separatist group, is frustrated over the local government's choice, WTEV-TV reports.
In a letter, he accused Clay County of adding "in God we trust" for purely religious reasons. While Parrot is questioning why the addition would be made after 150 years of the words apparently not appearing on the seal, local leaders are pushing back. County Commissioner Ronnie Robinson says that the former preacher is incorrect in voicing his contention.
"I think the pastor is wrong. He needs to remember why we came to this country," Robinson told WTEV. "What we did here is not an inclusion of church and government at all."
WTEV notes that "in God we trust" is on national currency and is also present on the local sheriff office's seal, but Parrott believes that adding it to the Clay County graphic is unpalatable and divisive.
The old seal (Photo Credit: Clay County)
"I bring today a serious request, namely, that you put aside the totally unnecessary and unwise decision you made last month about adding 'In God We Trust' to our County Seal," he said, going on to read a letter aloud to local officials.
Here are Parrott's two main points, as taken from his full note that is published on WTEV-TV's web site:
My first point is very simple: each of you was elected to do the very hard and important work of government. You were not elected to give spiritual or religious guidance or leadership. This County has upwards of two hundred churches and houses of worship of every description, each with its own religious leader. Citizens who are looking for religious guidance or advice have many leaders to go to. We urge you to consider this most basic American principle: you are elected to be political leaders working on behalf of all citizens. You are not elected to give religious leadership, and to do so creates division and discord that is totally unnecessary and pointless. Why do it?
Secondly, there are some of you who want to avoid trouble by minimizing your action and downplaying its importance. Some have been quoted as saying that that this is not really a religious slogan but just part of our “heritage” --- something common to everyone, just a generality that offends no one. The question is: who is kidding who? Clearly, the two persons who requested this slogan are not teachers of generalities; they are men who represent very specific Christian doctrines and dogmas. Not only is this a “Christian County”, they say, but they believe that everyone should come to Jesus Christ and share his love (Times Union March 13, 2013). Surely, these men are free to believe as they wish. But just as certainly, this Christian evangelistic slogan has no place on the seal of this County.
Screen shot showing the new Clay County seal
So far, these arguments have fallen on deaf ears.
While the former preacher believes that the slogan will create "division and discord," the county is defending it and noting that taxpayers will not incur cost, as the seal is electronic.