Bill to Require All West Virginia Classrooms to Display ‘In God We Trust’

Should the legislation pass, cash-strapped schools and universities could be on the hook for paying for the signage.

Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, speaks in the House Committee on the Judiciary on Jan. 17. (Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography)

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Public schools and universities would be required to display “In God We Trust” in every classroom, according to a bill that is advancing in the House of Delegates.

While the legislation, Senate Bill 152, permits the motto plaques to be donated, it doesn’t come with any funding — meaning that, should it pass, cash-strapped schools and universities could be on the hook for paying for the signage.

Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, said on Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee meeting that there could be “potentially thousands or tens of thousands” of classrooms in the state where the national motto must be shown.

“It brings into question who’s going to pay for it and how much is it going to cost?” he questioned.

Potential cost for implementing the bill wasn’t shared with committee members.

According to the measure, “In God We Trust” would have to be displayed on a poster or in a frame along with the United States flag. It would have to be displayed in a “conspicuous place.”

The Senate’s version of the legislation — passed in January — had required a motto plaque in every classroom, but the House Education Committee amended the bill so that it would just require the signage in a main building of the school.

On Thursday, Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, put forth an amendment in the House Judiciary Committee to change the bill back to the Senate’s intent — requiring the signage in every classroom.

Travis Mollahan, associate vice president of government relations at West Virginia University, told lawmakers that it would require the signage in more than 700 rooms on the university’s campuses.

The university, which has faced a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, cut hundreds of faculty positions and must also pay to implement a campus carry bill passed last year by state lawmakers.

Foster said WVU should be able to dip into its state’s appropriations to purchase the signage.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask without the [sign] size limitation that we have this posted in every classroom,” he said.

Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, raised concerns that requiring the signage in every classroom could violate the First Amendment.

“The bill has gone from the state mandating an area to the state mandating it into a physical classroom that students can’t avoid,” Fluharty said. “Maybe we can have an amendment where members of this body can read the Constitution a lot more often because it just made this bill null in its effect.”

Foster pushed back on that, saying the country’s motto was already circulated through schools while kids learned about currency.

The committee passed the bill onto the House floor for consideration.

This is the second time the Senate has attempted to pass the bill through — the House didn’t take it up for a vote last year. Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, is lead sponsor of the measure.

Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, who approved the bill, cautioned lawmakers “to be careful how far down this road we go” in regards to pushing patriotism onto students.

“It’s not what we have on our wall about God that’s going to make a difference in anyone’s lives. It’s how we live before them that’s going to make a difference in their lives,” he said.

West Virginia Watch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. West Virginia Watch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Leann Ray for questions: info@westvirginiawatch.com. Follow West Virginia Watch on Facebook and Twitter.

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