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Motto bill for schools faces lots of hurdles

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A legislator's run to post "In God We Trust" throughout every Utah public school has slowed to a crawl.

But sponsor Rep. Richard Siddoway, R-Bountiful, suggested legislative leaders may pick up his proposal and put it back in the race.

"I have members of leadership who want to co-sponsor this," said Siddoway, who didn't identify those leaders.

And those backers weren't there Tuesday, however, when the Education Interim Committee forwarded HB79 to House Rules — a powerful sifting committee of sorts that will determine the proposal's fate.

In fact, no one from the public testified in favor of the bill that would require schools to post "In God We Trust," adopted as the nation's motto in 1956, in every classroom, auditorium and cafeteria. The sign must be at least 11 inches by 14 inches. Type size is unspecified.

The bill used to require the motto be posted "on an appropriately framed background." But that language was deleted to buck the notion the bill served the marketing aims of the American Family Association.

The AFA, a conservative group promoting traditional family values, has made posting the nation's motto in schools a national campaign and sells framed copies. Its Web site notes Mississippi adopted a law similar to Siddoway's proposal, helping bring the motto to nearly 250,000 classrooms and public offices nationwide.

The constituent who asked Siddoway to carry the bill is an AFA member.

The bill's aim is to display the nation's motto as a historical, not a religious, document, Siddoway said. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks didn't inspire it, but he thought the motto would provide unity in their aftermath.

But Charles Johnson, a board member of Atheists of Utah, fears the opposite reaction. Others backed him.

"This is something that is offensive to a great many students. It causes problems and stirs things up," attorney and West High parent Dani Eyer said.

Marilyn Welles, who spoke as a citizen and taxpayer, believes the motto will become the subject of graffiti and jokes. She said she's seen it rephrased and posted as: "In God We Trust. All other customers must pay cash" or "In God We Trust, but use a condom anyway."

Reps. Lou Shurtliff, D-Ogden, and Afton Bradshaw, R-Salt Lake City, questioned whether posting the motto would turn classrooms into battlegrounds over church and state separation, even if the courts have upheld putting the motto in public buildings as Siddoway says.

But others believe the opposition is political correctness run amok.

"This nation has taken such an adverse position to . . . God," said Rep. Matt Throckmorton, R-Springville. "It's about time we do something like this as we strive to restore principles of morality."

The bill failed among House committee member, but passed among senators. That means it has to go back to the House Rules Committee, which, once the session starts Jan. 21, could assign it to the House Education Standing Committee.

Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, believes doing so could let "the good citizens who (support the bill) have a chance to give the other side."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com