Saying it just translates a Latin word already in the state motto, a House panel voted Monday to let schools literally put the word “God” into classrooms – as long as it’s connected to the word “enriches.”
Existing Arizona law says teachers and administrators may read or post a variety of things in any classroom. They range from the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem to published decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the writings and speeches of the “founding fathers” and presidents.
It also includes the national motto which is “In God we trust.”
SB 1289, which now needs approval of the full House, would add the state motto which is “Ditat Deus.”
But the proposal by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, also says that can be translated into its English version of “God enriches.” That got the attention — and objection — of Tory Roberg, lobbyist for the Secular Coalition for Arizona.
Roberg said it would be one thing if the state were simply going to post the motto, first used in 1863, in its Latin form. Nor does she object to posting the state seal in classrooms with its Latin version of the motto.
“The English translation of the motto is not the Arizona state motto,” Roberg told lawmakers. “We’re talking about allowing teachers to put a sign on the wall with the words ‘God enriches’ with no explanation.”
Roberg conceded that the national motto also contains the word “God.”
But she said courts have allowed it to remain in use, including on U.S. currency, not just because of its history but also “meaningless rote repetition” to the point where it is not seen as an endorsement of religion or even theism. That, Roberg said, is not the case with phrase “God enriches” which is derived from a passage in Genesis, saying it “actively promotes belief in God.”
Added to that, she said, is her claim that 13 percent of children younger than 18 — those in schools — identify as atheists.
But Roberg had no better luck Monday than she had when the measure cleared the Republican-controlled Senate last month on a 17-13 party-line vote. In fact, she actually did worse as Rep. Macario Saldate, D-Tucson, joined with Republicans on the Education Committee for an 8-2 vote to send the measure to the full House.
Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he doesn’t understand all the fuss, saying he doesn’t consider the words to be intolerant.
“All it would say to someone who believed is there might be some power, any power, as they wish to identify it,” he said.
“They could worship an alligator as a god, they could worship the sun as a god, they could worship a more acceptable, in a miracle sense, other beings as gods,” Bowers said. “But I don’t think it necessarily causes irreparable harm to anybody in an attitude of tolerance for all religion or lack of religion.”
And Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said too much was being made of allowing the English version of the motto being put into classrooms.
“It’s an accurate translation from the Latin,” he said.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said his vote against the legislation wasn’t based on Roberg’s objections. Bolding said he sees nothing in law now that precludes anyone from putting up the state motto now, in Latin or English.