MALIBU—Without much discussion, members of the Malibu City Council voted unanimously on Monday, January 9 to display “E plurbus unum,” a phrase on the U.S. Seal which in Latin means “Out of many, one,” in the council’s office.
This was in stark contrast to the contentious discussion that took place in December 2011 when “In God We Trust,” the national motto, was initially proposed. Pamela Conley Ulich brought the matter to her fellow councilmembers to consider in light of the U.S. Congress, including Malibu Representative Henry A. Waxman, having voted one month prior to reaffirm the motto. Ulich had already secured the display at her own expense.
In response to public criticism of her proposal, Ulich said she was exercising her First Amendment right to free speech to do the right thing by following Congress’s example. She added that no one owned the market on the motto in that it belongs to everyone.
Two members of the public had accused Ulich of allowing herself to be influenced by an outside group to push a religious agenda and of being inconsistent in her stance against government overstepping its regulatory role on private citizens’ lives. Ulich had earlier in the meeting made it clear that she was not comfortable with the city dictating to Malibu High School when it can light its main sports field. She said this while lending her support to passing the first reading of an ordinance toward this end.
Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal said the agenda item originated from the Bakersfield, Calif.-based group In God We Trust-America, Inc. mentioned in a city staff report. The non-profit group had set up a booth at a League of California Cities event in September to convince U.S. cities to display the national motto in their halls and headquarters. Though Rosenthal, Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte and Ulich were in attendance, Ulich claims she never met anyone from the group.
Later at the meeting, a speaker supporting Ulich’s proposal equated a city displaying the national motto with showing its patriotism. Councilmember John Sibert characterized this point of view as “just plain wrong.”
“There’s an epidemic sweeping the nation where gratitude for freedom is being replaced by arrogant entitlement. The thirst for freedom and the spirit of 1776 is slowly being diluted. There are times to swim with [the] current but on matters of principle times to stand like a rock,” the speaker said.
“Patriotism is not just waving a flag,” she said. “Sometimes it’s blazing a trail with blood, sweat and tears, and hoping that maybe it will give others courage to follow because there are no atheists in foxholes.”