By Carmen Forman
Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall wants the national motto, “In God We Trust” to be displayed prominently in all state buildings.
American Atheists, which advocates for the separation of church and government, criticized the proposal, saying it would be exclusionary to people with diverse religious beliefs.
House Bill 3817 would require the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to display “In God We Trust” in a prominent place in all state buildings, except for those owned by school districts.
The size and placement of the phrase would match how the motto is displayed in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. OMES would be required to cover the costs.
HB 3817 says displaying “In God We Trust” should not be construed to mean the state favors any religion over another. It also charges Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter to defend the displays if they are legally challenged.
McCall, R-Atoka, said he does not intend for the bill to be a religious statement.
“It is important for government to acknowledge history and project the values that make America great,” McCall said in a statement. “‘In God We Trust’ is on buildings, currency and more across America because it is our motto and an important part of our history and founding principles.”
President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation making “In God We Trust” the national motto in 1956. The phrase started appearing on U.S. currency nearly a century before.
This legislation sends a harmful message to atheists, agnostics, Buddhists and Hindus that they are unwelcome in Oklahoma, said Tim Ward, American Atheists’ Oklahoma state director. Another representative of the nonprofit group said McCall’s bill is model legislation designed to weaken the separation of church and state.
“Lawmakers should focus on the needs of every Oklahoman, especially those with diverse religious views, rather than using precious legislative time and taxpayer resources to serve out-of-state special interests,” Ward said in a statement. “Our lawmakers owe it to all Oklahomans to vote against this extremist bill with a dangerous agenda.”
HB 3817 is likely to be heard in the House Rules Committee next week. Ward sent a letter to House Rules Chairman Rep. Zack Taylor urging him to oppose the bill.
Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove, filed Senate Bill 1118 to place “In God We Trust” in the Oklahoma state Capitol. The bill from Shaw cleared the Senate General Government Committee on a 8-2 vote Feb. 13 with Democratic members opposed.