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In God We Trust sign now up at City Hall
For the first time since they approved it in November 2009, the Lathrop City Council members had their meeting Monday in the shadow of the prominent sign, “In God We Trust.” No taxpayers’ money was used in putting up the sign. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
LATHROP – There’s a new sign inside the council chambers at City Hall greeting visitors and city officials conducting meetings at the public venue.

The message, “In God We Trust,” in capital letters debuted at Monday’s City Council meeting. The 8.44-inch-tall black acrylic letters with gold trim is prominently displayed on the wall behind the dais where the council members sit during meetings.

The only one who offered a comment about it during the council comments at the end of the meeting was Council member Chris Mateo.

After calling everybody’s attention to the new display, he shared his own reaction to the message when he first saw it up on the wall: “I got enlightened; I got smarter.”

The five-member council last year unanimously approved displaying the religious message in a prominent location inside the council chambers. The sign appears directly above one of the electronic cameras used during the live airing of council meetings, and the city’s seal which is below the camera.

The price tag for the sign, including installation, was $552.30. However, none of that involved taxpayers’ money. Every cent was donated. At the council meeting in November 2009 when the city officials were poised to vote on approving that amount, resident Rosalinda Valencia volunteered to donate $100 for the sign. After she started the ball rolling, Council member Sonny Dhaliwal offered to match Valencia’s donation. Mayor Kristy Sayles soon followed with the same pledge.

After a prayerful comment from Council member Chris Mateo stating that he trusts God to take care of the rest of the expenses, the two Lathrop pastors who were in the audience stood up and announced that their congregations will pick up the remainder of the tab.

Pastor Tim Vogdt of the Lighthouse Community Church applauded the council members for their “courageous move” to act in favor of the controversial project despite the threat of a possible lawsuit. He also praised them for their willingness to “work underneath that blessing.”

The council at the time was made up of council member Oliver who was the retired minister of the Lathrop Church of Christ, Mayor Sayles who is part of Vogdt’s congregation, Dhaliwal who is a member of the Sikh Temple in Stockton, and Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo and Council member Mateo who are parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Lathrop.

Longtime Lathrop resident and frequent council critic Dan Doyle told the council that the religious message was an invitation to lawsuits against the city. He warned that if the council went ahead with the display, “I guarantee you, in three months there will be a lawsuit,” he said.

The council members, though, are confident that in the event that happens, the Pacific Justice Institute will keep its promise of providing the city legal protection without jeopardizing taxpayers’ money. The Pacific Justice Institute is a nonprofit organization which “specializes in defending religious liberty, including our nation’s heritage.”

The Lathrop council adopted the display at the request of In God We Trust – America, Inc. in Bakersfield.

Lathrop is not the first one to put up the religious display. Other cities including Lodi in San Joaquin County already have the signs displayed in their City Hall Council Chambers.