| State

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

State lawmakers soften proposal on posting 'In God We Trust' in school buildings

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 9:06 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers softened a proposal on Wednesday about posting “In God We Trust” in school buildings to make it optional and to add the Bill of Rights to the measure.

The House voted narrowly to reject a proposal to have the state cover legal costs if lawsuits result, and, by a wider margin, defeated an amendment that would have put the question before local voters in a referendum.

The National Motto Display Act attributes the national motto to a 19th-century Pennsylvania governor, though it was not formally adopted until President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law nearly 60 years ago.

The House amendments — which made it apply to cyber schools and directed the secretary of Education to notify districts — cleared the way for a final chamber vote, perhaps as early as next month. If it passes, it will go to the state Senate.

“The change from a mandate to a suggestion is a good thing,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “But schools post this phrase at their own risk. A blessing from the state House doesn't make a display of the phrase constitutional. That's for a court to decide.”

Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne, said school districts needed protection against potential litigation.

“The reality is that this mandate will come with a price tag, and our districts will be on the hook,” Carroll argued.

But Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, said there are lawyers who would defend the law for free. He added that indemnifying districts would set a bad precedent.

“I would hope that the fact that we're talking about our national motto, In God We Trust, that people should understand that this is something we should be proud of,” Clymer said.

Covering districts' legal bills was voted down, 99-97, but adding the Bill of Rights passed unanimously.

“In the American experience, as we as a people moved from subjects of the crown to free men, there is no more sacred doctrine than that that establishes our rights as free men,” said the amendment's sponsor, Rep. Mike O'Brien, D-Philadelphia. “Simply put, it should be prominently and proudly displayed alongside the national motto.”

Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, said local residents should be able to decide whether they want to display the motto and Bill of Rights.

“Our public schools should not be a place for motto branding of any sort, let alone motto branding that carries a religious message,” said McCarter, who formerly taught history in public schools.

Clymer said McCarter's amendment wasn't properly drafted because it would be a county referendum, not a local referendum, and argued elected school boards would be able to make the decision. It was voted down, 135-61.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Pennsylvania

  1. Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Fattah indicted in racketeering case
  2. Teen could spend 10 years in prison for role in injuring Ohio teacher
  3. Medical pot has advocate in Pennsylvania House
  4. Boy youngest to receive double-hand transplant in Philadelphia
  5. Probe continues in fatal shooting in Sharon hospital parking lot
  6. Teachers sue PSEA over refusal to give ‘fair share’ payments to their chosen causes