When the Hesperia City Council voted on June 20 to add a sign reading "one nation under God" to the council chambers, they were doing more than just adding a decorating touch to the room: They were also the latest government body to become involved in an ongoing debate over the separation of church and state.

In 2004, the United States Supreme Court considered a case originally brought by a California atheist who objected to his daughter being forced to include the words "under God" in the daily pledge of allegiance at school. (The words have been part of the United States Pledge of Allegiance since 1954.) The court eventually chose to not render a decision on the words and the question of whether their inclusion violates the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, but instead threw the case out on technical grounds.

That same year, the county of Los Angeles bowed to complaints -- including a threatened lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union -- about a cross appearing in the county's official seal and removed the image.

The potential for a similar lawsuit in Hesperia did occur to Hesperia City Council members, they said.

"In my mind, it came up, but not with discussing with other council members," Mayor Rita Vogler said. "It's amazing to me how we get away from the important things in life, the simple things. Is it religion? 'One nation under God?' I don't say that's religion; that's informing us of who we are as a nation."

"It's in our pledge," Mayor Pro Tem Mike Leonard said. "We say our pledge every meeting. They say the pledge in school, or they used to, in school."

"It was a factor, but not necessarily a negative factor," Councilman Tad Honeycutt said. "I did think about that, I did consider that, as a possibility. ... I think it's a good way to honor our historical heritage of our country."

City attorney Eric Dunn did not include any legal advice on the issue in the agenda packet given to council members prior to the June 20 council meeting. Agenda packets include dozens of pages of background information intended to help the council make decisions.

The five-member council voted unanimously to add the sign to council chambers.

If the day comes where someone does file a lawsuit regarding the phrase, it may well end up coming down in lieu of the city paying for an expensive court battle.

"Obviously, I won't go crazy with taxpayer dollars, but I think it's time for cities and states and counties to stand up for who we are," Vogler said. "I've gotten some letters that ... are expressing some concerns about one nation under God."

"'In God We Trust' has been through the court system and has been fine," Leonard said. "Someone needs to make an issue of it. It won't be us; we can't afford it. I don't know how you could justify spending taxpayer money on a lawsuit."

"I kind of feel like when they take the Ten Commandments out of the [United States] Supreme Court [building], maybe then we should worry," Honeycutt said. "What difference would it make, having that phrase in Hesperia?"

"I would hope that more communities would get behind us," Vogler said.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.