Bill to Put ‘In God We Trust’ Sign in Every Public School in Pennsylvania Gets Through Education Committee

We learned earlier this month Pennsylvania Rep. Rick Saccone (R-obviously), who has a history of sponsoring and supporting unnecessary legislation to promote Christianity, planned to propose legislation to put the words “In God We Trust” in every public school — and possibly every classroom — in the state.

Rep. Rick Saccone (at podium)

As Justin Vacula correctly pointed out then,

Public schools which ought to be secular — neutral in regards to religion — will be forced to prominently display religious messages if Saccone’s proposal is passed. Students will undoubtedly receive the message that belief in God — particularly the Christian god — is patriotic and the false message that the United States is a ‘Christian nation.’

I wonder if Saccone would want public schools to talk about the secular history of the United States including founding fathers who believed in a deistic god — a ‘god of nature’ who designed the universe but was not active in human affairs. Saccone’s “traditional values” — whatever they might be — and conflation of patriotism with Christianity ignores the contributions of secular Americans who “made our country a nation like no other.”

Last week, House Bill 1728 passed through the House Education Committee on a 14-9 vote.

If you listen to the hearing for the bill in that particular committee, Saccone is grilled by the Democrats who know damn well this is just an attempt to push religion in the schools.

Here’s the committee’s Democratic Chair James Roebuck at the 8:20 mark commenting on how displaying a dollar bill with “In God We Trust” on it could theoretically fulfill the school’s obligations if it were to become law, so why bother at all?

I have some problems in understanding what we’re doing here. We’re saying this is an important thing to do, yet by what you just said, it seems like you could do it in a very minimal way and fulfill the requirements of the bill… I’m not saying whether I think the bill is a good idea or not, but if indeed if it is, as you’re saying, a good idea to do, I’m not certain how just putting it somewhere in a school building fulfills any sort of purpose.

Saccone responds that the display would have to be “prominent,” however a school defined it.

Rep. Mark Longietti, a fellow Christian, made a reference to how church and state ought to be kept separate at the 10:30 mark and how bills like this actually are counterproductive to spreading the Gospel — a backhanded, but strategic, way to tell Saccone this isn’t the best way to proselytize:

… I have an obligation as a Christian to evangelize. The Great Commission tells me to go and make disciples. But it doesn’t tell me to use the government to do that and I think the reason that my faith is that way is because that’s not very effective. It really doesn’t change hearts. What changes hearts is one somebody on a personal level shares their faith…

I think when we do things like this, even though it’s talked about from a historical perspective, we create the false impression that somehow we have done our duty in that we have accomplished what we, if we are Christian as I am, are called to do and, really, we’ve abrogated our duty.

Saccone responded to that by saying this wasn’t about pushing his faith at all. (Sure.) It was just about history. And saving the children from the Evil:

… [It's] also a way of putting positive things like this — virtuous examples — in front of our children. God knows they need it. I mean you look at our children today, our society, it just seems to be spiraling downward and we need good examples to put in front of them. Here is a good example that’s been reaffirmed by our Supreme Court. It’s been upheld as long as we do it in historical sense. It’s fine to post this anywhere. And it’s a Pennsylvania story, something we can be proud of, and celebrate…

Rep. Mike Carroll made a financial case against the bill (18:47):

I’m not sure how in the world the school districts would be able to endure, financially, the challenges that are sure to come with respect to implementing a policy like this.

Saccone’s response? It’s our motto. It’s not a violation of the law. It’s tradition. It’s a risk worth taking. It’s “good for our children.” (Though he never provides any evidence that putting up the motto in schools will improve students’ grades, lives, future success, etc.)

It goes on like this for a while: The Democrats are annoyingly polite while Saccone pretends this isn’t really about pushing faith on anyone. Even though he’s the same person who’s sponsored legislation for the “Year of the Bible” and “National Fast Day.

It’s amazing that legislators are wasting their time debating a bill that has no business being passed in the first place.

When all was said and done, only one of the nine Democrats (Rep. James Clay) on the Education Committee voted for the bill. Only one Republican, Rep. Bernie O’Neill, voted against it.

So now the full House will vote on the bill. And Republicans have the numbers advantage…

For what it’s worth, the legislation suggests no punishment for schools that violate the bill. I would love to see administrators across the state — perhaps urged by some brave students — ignore the bill entirely. Instead of displaying the Godly message, put up messages that actually inspire students — of all religious beliefs. Let’s see how Saccone reacts when people give his unnecessary bill the respect it deserves.

(Thanks to Carl for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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