FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Four words caused a spirited discussion Wednesday as Kentucky lawmakers started advancing a bill to require public schools to display the national motto, "In God We Trust."
The measure cleared the House Education Committee, putting it on a path to reach the Republican-led House. The bill calls for the motto to be displayed prominently in public elementary and secondary Kentucky schools beginning in the 2019-20 school year.
Its lead sponsor, Republican Rep. Brandon Reed, told committee members that the motto is ever-present in society and is prominently displayed in the Kentucky legislature.
"Above our state seal in this room is our national motto," he said. "Above the speaker's chair in our House chamber is the national motto. ... On our money that we spend every single day is our national motto."
Under the bill, locations where the motto could be displayed would include school entryways, cafeterias or common areas where students are likely to see the words, Reed said. The motto could be displayed in the form of a mounted plaque or student artwork, he said.
The bill's critics included the Rev. Jason Crosby, a Baptist minister from Louisville who said he's a board member with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. He said he opposes mandating that public schools post the motto.
"This bill sends a thinly veiled message that only students who believe in God are welcome at their school," he told the committee.
Crosby said the bill could result in school bullying by sending the message that anyone not believing in God is "subordinate."
Republican Rep. Randy Bridges replied that "just because a word is hanging on a wall is not bullying." He said the motto's presence in schools would be an important reminder that could help foster improved relationships.
"And I can't think of a better relationship for anyone to focus on than their relationship with their God," he said.
Committee members who opposed the bill also said they had problems with its mandate that schools display the motto.
"If I thought that this would help stop violence, it would help stop unkindness toward each other, I'd be all for it," said Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, who voted against the measure.
The legislation is House Bill 46.