A bill by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th, passed through the House Education Committee 15-7. It would require school boards to post the national motto “In God We Trust” to:
— solemnize the proceedings in the classroom;
— give humility to teachers and administrators in their task of work during the day;
— provide an expression of hope;
— and to reinforce citizenship to make people feel part of the nation.
“Some may claim that the purposes of this is to advance religion The purposes are the ones I stated,” Marshall said.
Marshallintroduced similar legislation last year but it died in the Senate. He has two other bills that require the posting in courts and on major local government administrative buildings.
The court version passed the House Courts of Justice Committee on Monday.That committee would give heftier debate to a bill by Prince William Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st, that would give school boards the option to post the Ten Commandments in schools. The committee held off on a vote until Friday so members could readup on court precedent.
“The posting of the Ten Commandments will place before our children an appropriate representation of the values of our founders,” Lingamfelter said.
Quoting Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams and other founders, Lingamfelter told how the tragedy of Sept. 11 said personally to him that the arguments of the last 50 years are wrong — what are considered “secular values” are not enough for the compassion and justice of America. He repeated to the committee that it is a local option, not a mandate by the state, in his closing remarks.
The bill states the Virginia Attorney General would defend any school boards from litigation resulting from the posting of the Ten Commandments.
Judicial review of Ten Commandments issues in public buildings relies “on the three-pronged test in Lemon v. Kurtzman: the action must have a secular purpose, its primary effect must be neither to advance or inhibit religion, and the action must not foster ‘excessive governmental entanglement’ with religion,” his proposal states.
There are many arguments against the constitutionality of posting the Ten Commandments in schools, said University of Richmond professor Michael Wolf.
“How is remembering the Sabbath — to keep it holy — secular in any way?” Wolf asked.
One of Wolf’s colleagues argued similarly against the Marshall proposal — that the advancement of religion is accomplished by posting “In God We Trust.”
It was first used by Lincoln on a 2-cent currency to increase religious awareness during the Civil War, said Robert Alley, a religion professor at the University of Richmond.
“The phrase has about as much meaning as ‘Have a nice day,'” he said, invariably causing students to ask what it means.
Marshall’s bill would provide for the attorney general to defend any school board from “another misguided” case by the American Civil Liberties Union over the posting of “In God We Trust.”
Ohio courts found it to be legal to post “With God all things are possible” — quoted from the book of Matthew — on government buildings, Marshall said.
“Is this a commonwealth just for atheists?” he said.
Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached in Richmond at (804) 649-8710.