TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With supporters saying the motto is a “foundation” of the state and country, a House panel Tuesday approved a bill that would require the message “In God We Trust” to be displayed at all public schools.
“In God We Trust” has been included in state law as Florida’s official motto since 1868. It's on the state seal, which is prominently displayed in the state Capitol. It was also adopted as the country's motto in 1956 and appears on the back of currency.
The bill (HB 839), sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, and Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, would require school boards to adopt rules ensuring that the motto would be displayed in a “conspicuous place” in each school.
“There’s a saying that if the foundation is destroyed, what can we do?” Daniels said before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee approved the bill.
Daniels, a former Jacksonville City Council member, is looking to remind Florida's school children of their right to religious freedom.
"You have to ask yourself, why would anyone not want a motto that is so positive for our children displayed?" Daniels said.
The motto is already on the state flag, and the flag is required to be displayed in schools -- posing the question: Would the legislation actually change anything?
"If the flag is displayed, the motto is displayed," said Sue Woltanski, with Common Cause Florida.
That was one of two concerns posed by Woltanski, who also thinks the proposal would cost too much.
"If I frame a picture, it costs $100. How many schools do we have?" Woltanski asked. "I don't know how many schools we have, but anything times 100 is a lot."
Despite the unknown price tag, the proposal passed its first committee stop with unanimous approval. Support crosses secular lines.
"I think it's important for people to know that the First Amendment is freedom to practice religion, not freedom from religion," said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who is Jewish.
Supporters say the display is in no way a governmental endorsement of religion.
Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, has filed an identical bill (SB 1158), but it has not been heard in Senate committees.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.