Another unneeded religious overture
State Rep. Rick Saccone is at it again.
The Elizabeth Republican, who got the state House sued last year with his resolution declaring 2012 the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania, now wants to insert his religious beliefs into every public school in the commonwealth.
Saccone’s bill would require all public school districts to display the motto “In God We Trust” in each and every one of their school buildings.
It’s about teaching history, says Saccone.
The tortured and twisted rationale for the bill goes like this:
The purpose of the bill, Saccone said in a news release, is to “promote patriotism through the display of the national motto and to educate children about an important but overlooked part of Pennsylvania’s heritage.”
Saccone said James Pollock, a member of Congress and a Pennsylvania governor in the mid-1800s, “introduced the words ‘In God We Trust’ to our coins” while serving as the director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. That’s a stretch. The impetus for adding such a phrase to our money really came from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who directed Pollock in 1861 to come up with some suitable religious mottos to be stamped on our money. Ultimately, it was Chase who came up with “In God We Trust,” which had been used in a verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key decades earlier.
That aside, we’re not quite sure how an expression of fealty toward a supreme being on the walls of public schools from one end of the commonwealth to the other translates into patriotism, which is a love of country, not of a deity.
It’s a bit much to think that schoolkids would 1) Pay any attention to such a sign, beyond an initial passing glance; and 2) Think to themselves, “Hmmm, ‘In God We Trust.’ I sure do love America.”
Saccone also argues that “our youth need to hear the story of our heritage and learn from positive role models in a time of decaying values.” Again, we find it difficult to imagine many of today’s youth finding inspiration from James Pollock’s long-forgotten deeds.
Here’s the real deal. As with the “Year of the Bible” resolution, Saccone is trying to use his public position to spread his personal religious beliefs and impose them, in this instance, on the state’s children, who may very well have spiritual foundations that are much different from Saccone’s, or have no beliefs whatsoever. In a nutshell, Saccone’s bill, under a thin cloak of history and patriotism, is an attempt to circumvent the separation of church and state, and get God – the one Saccone believes in – into our public schools.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled that Saccone’s measure urging all Pennsylvanians to read the Bible was immune from a lawsuit filed by an atheist group, but the judge was far from kind to Saccone and the bill’s other supporters in his ruling.
Said Conner, “At worst, (the resolution) is premeditated pandering designed to provide a re-election sound-bite for use by members of the General Assembly.” He also called the measure’s language “proselytizing and exclusionary.”
This latest effort by Saccone can be described the same way, and there’s one more part of Conner’s ruling that aptly describes our thoughts about the bill.
“At a time when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania faces massive public policy challenges, these (government) resources would be far better utilized in meaningful legislative efforts for the benefit of all of the citizens of the commonwealth, regardless of their religious beliefs.”