Facebook Twitter

Posting motto in schools pushes religion, foes say

SHARE Posting motto in schools pushes religion, foes say

DENVER — Don Swarthout, nondenominational pastor, sees it as an opportunity to give children a moral compass. Opponents say it's a veiled attempt to introduce religion and prayer in public schools.

The dispute is over whether "In God we trust" should be displayed in Colorado schools.

The state Board of Education was considering a resolution Thursday that says the motto should be posted in schools but would not require it. Board chairman Clair Orr has said schools need a reminder of moral standards.

"We're not waving our Bibles at anyone," said Swarthout, who led a rally to support the posting of the Ten Commandments in Colorado. "The courts and politicians have shot down our standards, and now it's whatever you want to do: No rules, no fear."

Earlier this year, the Colorado Legislature refused to require schools to post the Ten Commandments and the U.S. Supreme Court recently banned prayers at high school football games.

"I see this as part of a plan by the religious right. If they can't get the Ten Commandments, this year they will settle for 'In God we trust,' and next year they will go for the Ten Commandments," said Rabbi Steven Foster, a member of the Denver Interfaith Alliance, a group that opposes religion in public schools.

Three states — Kentucky, Ohio and South Dakota — have approved posting the Ten Commandments, and another eight are considering it. Other states have had clashes on church and state over issues ranging from mottoes to nativity scenes.

In April, a federal appeals court found that Ohio's motto, "With God, all things are possible" — a quote from the New Testament — is unconstitutional.

Kenneth Johnson, a Methodist minister who is leading the fight to keep Ohio's motto, said he finds it difficult to believe anyone would object to "In God we trust," which Congress approved for the nation's currency in 1864 following a request from a member of the clergy.

In the last three decades — most recently in 1996 — three federal appeals courts have allowed the use of "In God we trust" on coins and said it does not amount to a government sponsorship or endorsement of religion.

In a 1970 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said it was "quite obvious" that the motto "has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion" and that "its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character."

The Supreme Court has never decided a direct challenge to the motto.

But according to the U.S. Mint, the high court cast doubt on the constitutionality of the phrase in 1962. Justice Potter Stewart said that under the court's decision barring prayer in schools, "In God we trust" would presumably be deemed unconstitutional.