- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

DENVER The Colorado Board of Education voted Thursday to urge schools to display "In God We Trust," the motto used on the nation's currency for more than a century, in a deliberate challenge to the growing secularization of public education.

In a meeting that began with a prayer, the board voted 5-1 for a nonbinding resolution to "encourage the appropriate display in schools and other public buildings of the national motto, 'In God We Trust.' "

"By calling attention to our national motto, [the board] is calling attention to an aspect of our religious heritage which has been sorely neglected by our public educational system," said board member Randy DeHoff. DeHoff charged that students are leaving school "wholly ignorant" of their nation's religious tradition.

The resolution is likely to embroil the board in a lawsuit over religious freedom.

Critics accused the board Thursday of interfering with parents' private religious decisions by attempting to indoctrinate students with traditional religious beliefs.

"The Colorado Board of Education is trying to meddle in the religious lives of young children," said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "They have no business doing that and should in fact just butt out."

Sue Armstrong, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the group will monitor displays before deciding whether to file a lawsuit.

The resolution only encourages schools to post the motto, which would presumably leave the final call to the state's school districts.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens Thursday applauded the board's vote, even though the decision could lead to a protracted and expensive court battle.

"I don't believe we should let the ACLU, for example, define policy through the threat of a lawsuit," said the Republican governor. "I think it's our job as public officials to do what we believe is right."

He said the board's vote "reflects an underlying belief that's been consistently expressed over 200 years in the United States that we do trust in God, that there's a special relationship between this country and the Almighty."

"In God We Trust" began appearing on the nation's coins after a law approving the phrase was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law declaring the phrase the "national motto of the United States."

Ms. Armstrong said there is a significant difference between printing the motto on coins and posting it in schools.

"Money is available to everyone. Everyone gets money," she said. "When you're talking about posting the motto in schools, you're targeting a specific audience that's very young and very vulnerable."

The vote comes as the latest salvo in an ongoing movement to restore a stronger moral climate to the nation's classrooms, prodded in part by last year's massacre at Columbine High School.

In the past year, three states Indiana, Kentucky and South Dakota have approved bills letting schools post the Ten Commandments. In Colorado, a similar bill was approved in committee, but ultimately died before a floor vote.

Board member Pat M. Chlouber alluded to the Columbine shooting, which left 15 dead, in her remarks supporting the resolution.

"Why do we have to wait until a time of need to utter the name of God?" she asked. "Why do we have to wait until a tragedy to say, 'Our prayers are with you'?"

Board member Gully Stanford, who cast the only dissenting vote, said the resolution was out of touch with demographic reality.

"We are a much more pluralistic nation than we were at the founding of our nation," he said. "In this pluralistic society, we must question the proclamation of one belief to the exclusion of another."

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