It's not about religion, insists Representative Rick Saccone, it's about history.
Saccone's bill, House Bill 1728, would require all public schools in
Pennsylvania to prominently display the words "In God We Trust"
prominently in every public building.
The bill passed out of the Education
Committee earlier this week.
"This is a great Pennsylvania history story that I think is important for our children to know and appreciate," said Saccone, a Republican who represents Allegheny and Washington counties.
The history Saccone speaks of is Milton native James Pollock, a former governor who was named by President Lincoln to be the director of the Philadelphia mint.
Pollock, a devout Christian, pushed for the words "In God We Trust" to be stamped into coins in 1864, a practice that continues today.
"In God We Trust" became the United States official motto in 1956.
Saccone insists he's celebrating history and not pushing religion, but since Pollock was known as the "Christian Governor" and Saccone authored a "Year of the Bible" resolution, critics are not so trusting of his motives.
"This is all mumbo-jumbo for religion," said Camp Hill's Carl Silverman, a self-proclaimed atheist activist. Silverman sees religious motivations behind Saccone's historic pretense.
"In the schools there's a captive audience and you have impressionable children who would see the "In God We Trust" statement and perhaps think, 'Oh, I need to believe in God to be a full citizen of this school and of this country,' " Silverman said.
Democrats in the Education Committee criticized Saccone's lack of specificity when it comes to a "prominent display."
"If you took a dollar bill and taped it on the wall, would that fulfill the requirements of the bill?" Representative James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia) asked Saccone. "Yes," Saccone answered. "Any way they decided to display it prominently."
Saccone insists he doesn't understand why four little words are causing such a big fuss.
"It's passive exposure," Saccone said. "They don't have to look at it because if it's on the cafeteria wall or if it's over the front door they can look at it or don't have to look at it. Why would we not celebrate our national motto? We can have witches on brooms in schools, we can have Dracula, and vampires and zombies, but we can't have our national motto in our schools?