Saturday, July 15, 2000

Ohio motto is back in court

Appeals judges will rehear sides

By John Nolan
The Associated Press

        The fight over Ohio's state motto, “With God, all things are possible,” is going back before the federal appeals court.

        The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday it will rehear arguments about whether the motto's wording violates the U.S. Constitution as an apparent government endorsement of religion. On April 25, a panel of the court ruled 2-1 that the motto is unconstitutional.

        Friday's decision sets aside the April ruling. It means that 13 judges of the Cincinnati-based appeals court could rehear lawyers' arguments as soon as December, after both sides file written arguments.

        Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery said she is delighted with the second chance to argue that Ohio's motto is constitutional.

        “I am committed to defending the state motto all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if needed,” Ms. Mont gomery said.

        Mark Cohn, a Cleveland lawyer who argued that the motto is unconstitutional, said the court's decision Friday was a setback.

        The appellate court's April ruling had reversed a lower court's decision that permitted Ohio's use of the motto. U.S. District Judge James Graham of Columbus ruled in 1998 that the words were acceptable as an official motto if Ohio did not attribute them to their biblical source.

        The Ohio Legislature adopted the motto in 1959 as a quotation from Jesus in the New Testament writings of Matthew. Mr. Graham said that in a secular setting the words are also compatible with Judaic or Muslim beliefs.

        The appellate panel disagreed.

        “When Jesus spoke to his disciples, he was explaining to them what was needed of them to enter heaven and achieve salvation, a uniquely Christian thought not shared by Jews and Muslims,” Judge Avern Cohn — no relation to Mark Cohn — wrote for the appellate majority.


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