Nikki Moungo, a self-proclaimed atheist and a mother, made an impassioned plea to the Ballwin City Council asking it not to put up a planned "In God We Trust" sign on city property.
Instead, Moungo told the council she'd like a sign with the motto "E pluribus unum" (Latin for "Out of many, one"), and she brought a $1,000 check to the meeting to fund it.
"If you want to put up 'E pluribus unum,' you've got my money. If you want to put up 'In God We Trust,' then it will be a fight I'm ready to take on," Moungo told the council at Monday's meeting. "This is my kids' lives. This is their town. And they deserve to be included as much as Christian children do."
The Holy Infant Knights of Columbus have pledged $750 toward building an "In God We Trust" sign on public property, and the city approved moving forward with the project at a meeting last month. No other municipality in St. Louis County has the religious motto on a public building, Knights of Columbus representative Joe Strange has told the council.
Moungo didn't exactly get a swelling of support for her idea, she tells Daily RFT. One audience member said he agreed with her points, and Alderman Shamed Dogan emailed her to thank her for speaking. But after her letters to the council went unanswered, any response was better than no response.
"I guess you just have to get in their face to get an answer from them," she says.
Moungo's speech, later posted on YouTube, is in turns forceful and emotional, and she breaks down for a moment after describing why she brought her two children to the meeting.
"I have children who were born and raised here, and I always told them, 'This is a great town,'" she says, pointing to them in the audience. "If you want to make changes, you go down and you tell your local government. You vote. So that's why they're here with me today, because they need to see, they need to know that they have a voice."
Moungo said putting up a sign about "God" was religious discrimination at a time when, in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, cities should be working on inclusion and tolerance.
"In light of what happened in Ferguson, I think it's very important for city officials to look at the diversity that exists in the communities and have respect for them, for all the citizens," she says. "It's hurting the residents. And it's only going to help one particular subset of residents. That is exclusionary practice when I believe inclusivity is the key. What happened in Ferguson, this was a diversity problem that had not been recognized. Doing something like this is going to create a problem where, right now, none exists.... So to me, it's inviting trouble. It's asking for exclusionary conflict. And I can't abide that."
At a meeting last month the city's attorney, Robert Jones, said the motto is so ingrained in the American lexicon that it's a patriotic, not religious, slogan, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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