By Lance Mihm
A proposal by 77th District Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina) requiring schools to post state and federal mottos in all of Ohio’s 100,000 classrooms has stirred a debate over separation of church and state.
House Bill 415 would require all schools to display the state motto, “with God all things are possible,” and the national motto, “in God we trust,” in each classroom. Faber denied claims by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other organizations that the bill was a backdoor attempt to get religion into public schools.
“It doesn’t promote or require any discussion,” Faber said. “It doesn’t give anyone the opportunity to say my God is better than yours. It is for historical context. Both mottos have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional.”
If the bill is approved, Ohio would join Mississippi and South Carolina as the only states to require the national motto to be displayed in every classroom. The mottos on 11-by-14 inch posters are available at a cost of three for $10 from the American Family Association.
The Ohio Legislative Service Commission (OLSC), which gives an analysis on proposed bills to Legislators, estimated it would cost $3 million to place two framed hangings in each classroom across the state. OLSC budget analyst Ed Millane said the estimate was based on a study for a similar bill proposed last year and said it did not take into account buying in bulk. Faber argued the cost of the project.
“You can buy a couple of frames for $3 at Wal-Mart and quick math tells you that it is $300,000 and not $3 million,” Faber said. “I don’t know where that cost (estimate) is coming from.”
Faber added the bill would not come at any cost to the state. He did not mention any cost to school districts.
He said the hope was that private organizations would help fund the cost of the framed posters. If private citizens do not step up to the plate to pay for the motto displays, the cost will have to be borne by the school districts, he said.
“The bill makes it clear that no state funds would be used,” Faber said. “The cost is not in the bill at all. The bill is designed to be specifically neutral. Its importance is to promote the historical context of the founding of this country.”
Democrat Betsy Marshall of Eaton, who has declared candidacy to run for Faber’s spot in the House in November, argued the timing of the bill.
“It is foolish spending when money could be more wisely spent somewhere else,” Marshall said. “These unfunded mandates just add more clutter to the school systems. It is frivolous legislation that is only serving his special interest groups. We have more important matters we could be dealing with.”
Faber said it was too early to gauge support for the bill, but did say it has gathered bipartisan support. The bill likely will be attached to Faber’s proposed House Bill 65, which will require schools to set aside time for the Pledge of Allegiance.