Gov. Mark R. Warner signed into law the “In God We Trust” bill on Friday, handing a major victory to the measure’s main sponsor, Prince William Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District.
Marshall’s bill was identical to a Senate-passed version sponsored by Norfolk Sen. Nick Rerras, R-6th District. The bill requires the words “In God We Trust, the national motto, enacted by Congress in 1956” be posted prominently at least once in every public school in Virginia, paid for by private donations.
“I thank the governor for doing it,” Marshall said, when he was told of Warner’s action Friday afternoon. “I’m glad they listened to not just us but also our constituents.” Friday was the last day the governor was to veto proposed legislation.
Warner in a statement said his main concern had been the bill’s lack of funding from the state or local governments.
“I was concerned that the General Assembly’s plan could conceivably lead to students in public school classes being coerced to help pay for the school’s sign,” Warner said. “I have received assurances from the patrons of this legislation that private donors are available to fund appropriate signs for this purpose.”
Warner had attempted to amend the bill, requiring public funding be available before Marshall’s bill became law, but the General Assembly rejected his changes during its one-day session in April.
During the 60-day General Assembly session earlier this year, Marshall said he and Rerras had met with Warner for nearly an hour and told him that most schools have foundations to provide private dollars, and at least one private citizen had offered to pay for posters for all state schools.
Warner said he has no objection to the posting, even though he said he has “expressed grave concerns about some measures that raise constitutional concerns, such as those involving posting of the Ten Commandments.”
Warner also signed Marshall’s bill that allows local government administrative buildings to post the motto.
The laws take effect July 1.
School officials for Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park said they are ready to comply with the law.
“We already have our signs prepared. Our schools have had them for some time now [in storage],” said Manassas Schools Superintendent Chip Zullinger. “It was something we anticipated would become law.”
Their posters were made out of materials already available, with black and white lettering, he said. Every Manassas school will post the motto in a prominent place, he said.
Prince William Schools Superintendent Edward L. Kelly could not be reached Friday, but he had said at last week’s School Board meeting the county would comply with the law should it pass.
Manassas Park Schools Superintendent Tom DeBolt said the spirit and letter of the law will be met in the city. A sign will be posted in the main area of each school, he said.
“We really haven’t put any plans into motion. It doesn’t seem like a difficult thing to accomplish at all,” he said.
Not everyone was embracing the measure.
“Well, some way we’ll abide by the law,” said Prince William School Board Chairwoman Lucy S. Beauchamp. “My job is to educate the kids. I need to focus on that, so hopefully we’ll get guidance from the state on ways to fund it.”
Marshall said the private funding is out there and is not in question.
He said the bill also does not add liability for school systems.
“The benefit to localities is that the attorney general will defend them should the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) sue,” Marshall said.