The state of Ohio has had two mottos, and they each made people unhappy for different reasons. “With God All Things Are Possible” became the state motto of Ohio in 1959 and remains the official motto today. It was selected at the suggestion of a boy, James Mastronardo of Cincinnati, who submitted the Biblical phrase to the state. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio filed a lawsuit in 1997 challenging the use of the motto on the state seal and in other official capacities, such as displaying it on state buildings and on official letterheads. The ACLU’s suit called the new state motto of Ohio unconstitutional, alleging it clearly stated a preference for Christianity over other forms of religion.
The United States District Court in Ohio ruled in 1998 against the ACLU and its co-plaintiff, a minister of the Presbyterian faith. The court said the state motto of Ohio is no more sectarian than other Bible phrases that have come into common use. The ruling went in favor of the defendants, which included the state governor, a state senator, the Department of Taxation commissioner and the secretary of state. The ruling cited the United States’ use of “In God We Trust” as the country’s motto, and a handful of other states’ mottos, which also refer to God. The state motto of Ohio could remain in official service, including its inscription on a public building.
“With God All Things Are Possible” replaced the original motto, Imperium in Imperior. The first state motto of Ohio means “An Empire Within an Empire.” It reigned as the official motto for just two years after its adoption in 1865. Ohio got rid of the motto because the phrase “smacked too much of royalty” and gave the state a pretentious air. Some people also disliked it because it was a Latin phrase.
A Republican governor, Jacob D. Cox, a former Civil War general, championed the Latin phrase. Democrats of the day disliked it intensely, saying it did not fit in with democracy. When a majority of Democrats came into office in the next election, they abolished the first state motto of Ohio.
For more than 90 years following the Democrats’ action, there was no official state motto. James Mastronardo, who was called Jimmie, changed that with his suggestion of “With God All Things Are Possible.” He was a sixth grader who attended the Hartwell School in his hometown.