The Jefferson County Board of Education, representing Colorado's largest school district, voted unanimously last night to reject a proposal to display "In God We Trust" posters in the district's 145 schools. Americans United for Separation of Church and State commended the board for its support for church-state separation.
"We're very pleased that Jefferson County had the good sense to reject this misguided scheme," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Board members in Jefferson County could have easily voted to post the phrase, engulfing their schools in legal and political controversies. I applaud the wisdom they demonstrated with their unanimous vote.
"The proposal was a thinly veiled attempt to undercut the religious neutrality of public schools and circumvent the Supreme Court's rulings on church-state separation," Lynn added. "The board was clearly right to vote it down."
Before last night's 5-0 vote, Scott Schneider, a parent of two public school students and a member of Americans United, told board members that public schools have no business promoting religion.
"I think it is unfortunate that this is even an issue," Schneider told the board members. He added, "No one is better qualified than me to provide religious instruction" to his children.
Last week, Americans United's Legal Department and Colorado Chapter wrote to Jefferson County Board members, urging them to reject the religious proposal.
"At best, it is an insincere effort to manipulate patriotic sentiments to achieve a religious goal," said AU Legal Director Steven K. Green. "At worst, it will result in school endorsement of religion in the minds of school children, thus violating the principle of separation of church and state."
The initiative to post the religious phrase was begun by the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, an ultraconservative Religious Right group based in Tupelo, Miss.
Wildmon, president of the AFA, published a column in the March 2000 issue of the AFA Journal asking Religious Right activists across the country to purchase 11 x 14-inch posters with the words "In God We Trust," at the rate of three for $10.
The Colorado State Board of Education became the first government body to endorse the AFA approach, when it voted 5-1 on July 6 to approve a resolution urging public schools in the state to post the phrase "In God We Trust."
The campaign took on a national significance when the U.S. House of Representatives voted on July 24 to encourage display of the religious motto in public buildings.
"I know it's an election year and many politicians are tripping over themselves to appear religious," Lynn concluded. "That's what makes the yesterday's vote in Jefferson County even more admirable."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.