LINCOLN — A contentious hearing Tuesday for a bill that would require the national motto — “In God We Trust” — to be displayed prominently in schools began with a practicing Muslim in favor and ended with a neutral Satanist.
The motto shows trust in not one religion, but trust in “something better than what we’ve achieved,” said Zachary Cheek, the first to testify on Legislative Bill 73. He was the only proponent who spoke on the record.
The last testifier, who offered satirical “neutral” testimony, said he was from the Nebraska Evangelical Church of Satan. John Skinner said the legislation would “open up an opportunity for us as well.”
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
The Education Committee heard opposition testimony for the vast majority of the hearing, however. Arguments against included that the motto is not inclusive for non-Christian students and that the bill would be a threat to local control of schools.
Courts have ruled that “In God We Trust” is a secular statement and not unconstitutional, said Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman, who introduced the bill.
Erdman said the bill’s goal isn’t to put God back in schools, though he is in favor of that. The question is whether the national motto should be in schools, Erdman said.
Federal legislation declared the national motto to be “In God We Trust” first in 1956 and most recently in 2011. An unofficial national motto, “e pluribus unum,” translates to “out of many, one” and is on the U.S. seal.
Similar bills requiring or allowing “In God We Trust” to be displayed in public schools have been passed in at least nine states, six of those since 2017, according to Forbes.
Senators in favor of the bill thanked the opponents for their testimony, which was often heated.
North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, the chairman of the committee, at one point called for decorum. At another point, he asked Joseph Couch, 24, a member of Nebraska Secular Democrats, if he could prove that his great-great-great-great-grandfather existed.
“Yes, by being here,” Couch responded.
“I happen to believe — yes, I’m here because of God,” Groene replied.
Groene told Couch, “I don’t know your anger toward God or why you even care ...”
“Senator, I’m not angry toward God,” Couch said. “I cannot be angry at God because I do not believe in him. It’s much like saying I’m angry at unicorns.”
Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said she was against the bill because of her Christian beliefs. If “In God We Trust” isn’t religious, she said, then it takes his name in vain. She asked if Erdman had considered using Nebraska’s motto, “Equality Before the Law.” He hadn’t.
Glenvil Sen. Dave Murman said the Sandy Creek school board wanted to put “In God We Trust” in buildings when he served on the board there. Fear of a lawsuit stopped them, he said. Some opponents said they would be more in favor of a bill that would allow, not require, the national motto to be displayed in schools.
One opponent, Donna Roller, said she was against the bill because it is controversial and a waste of time.
“There are so many other issues before this legislature, a budget issue,” Roller said. “And here we are arguing about our religious beliefs, and science, and evolution.”