Colorado board backs use of 'In God we trust' in schools

Posted: Thursday, July 06, 2000

DENVER (AP) -- In a meeting that began with a prayer, the Colorado Board of Education voted Thursday to urge public schools to post the motto ''In God we trust'' on their walls.

With a 5-1 vote, the board passed a non-binding resolution to encourage ''the appropriate display in schools and other public buildings of the national motto.''

''How long can we remain a free nation if our youth don't have civic virtue?'' asked board chairman Clair Orr, who initiated the resolution. ''The words we pass on to our young can shape our destiny.''

Supporters see such postings as an opportunity to give children a moral compass. Opponents say they are a veiled attempt to introduce religion and prayer in public schools and violate the U.S. Contstitution, but Orr said federal courts have previously upheld challenges to the motto.

Board member Gully Stanford, who cast the only dissenting vote, said the action will be regarded as an ideological matter and will be a distraction to the real business of the board. He also said the resolution is insensitive given the diverse religious backgrounds of Colorado students.

''We are a much more pluralistic nation than we were at the founding of our nation,'' Stanford said. ''In this pluralistic society, we must question the proclamation of one belief to the exclusion of another.''

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 mottos 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.

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