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Manteca elected leaders to determine whether to display national motto in council chambers
lathrop in god we trust
‘In God We Trust’ as displayed in the Lathrop City Council chambers.

Manteca Councilman Dave Breitenbucher wants to see the national motto “In God We Trust” displayed next to the city seal in the council chambers.

The City Council may decide whether that will happen when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

The City of Lathrop in 2010 decided to do what Breitenbucher is proposing.

Backers of the idea paid the $552.50 for the materials to make the sign and the cost of installing it so there wasn’t a penny of tax dollars spent.

There was no opposition to the move.

A Lathrop council member at the time — retired church minister Robert Oliver – dismissed legal concerns saying he saw “no room for a lawsuit” in having the sign displayed at City Hall. Oliver said the statement has enough “room for interpretation.”

“This does not say, ‘In Christian God we trust,’ or ‘In Jewish God we trust.’ This is our national motto. It’s on every dollar bill, on every coin we have. I approve this one,” Oliver added back in 2010.

Sonny Dhaliwal, who is now Lathrop’s mayor and was a council member at the time, echoed Oliver’s comment adding “everything this body does, there’s a threat of a lawsuit.”

A number of California cities including Lodi have similar signs in their council chambers.

A joint resolution passed in 1955 by the 84th Congress and signed by President Dwight Eisenhower required that the motto appear on all currency.

A year later Congress passed legislation making “in God we trust” the national motto that Eisenhower signed into law.

The motto first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864. It was added to paper currency in 1957.

 The U.S. Supreme Court has referenced the motto in footnotes on rulings. The high court has never ruled on its constitutionality.

Back in the 1990s unbeknownst to elected officials, Manteca city staff took it upon themselves to neuter the city seal — now commonly referred to as the city logo — to erase any religious symbolism.

What looks like a McMansion on the seal actually was originally designed as a church with a cross on the rooftop. The other elements of the church — pseudo stained glass windows were kept. Also on the seal is a house with trees behind it.

The seal is inscribed with the municipal logo, “The Family City”.

Staff afterwards said they removed the steeple to avoid Manteca being targeted by organizations that were suing other cities under the umbrella of separation of church and state lawsuits that were going after religious symbols on government property as well as prayers at public meetings.

Those lawsuits had mixed results.

Manteca continues to have opening prayers for its council meetings. They have been led by representatives of various faiths across the spectrum and — in a pinch — by council members or department heads.

In several California cities where such a practice has trigger acrimonious debate, the prayer was moved before the official start of meetings.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email