Throwing fuel on the constitutional firewall between church and state, the Montana Senate last week gave final approval to a bill that sanctions local and state government display of the words “In God we Trust.”
Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Rick Laible, R-Victor, had earlier been approved by the House by an 86-14 margin. Only 10 senators voted against the measure before it cleared the Legislature April 8.
SB 2 says state and local governments have the authority to display the slogan and other “historical documents” in or around public buildings and on state-owned land.
“This is straight out of the religious-right handbook—cramming a very fundamentalist view of Christianity down everyone’s throat,” says Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN), which opposed Laible’s measure.
SB 2 neatly ties in with the far-right American Family Association’s push to put “In God We Trust” in every classroom in the country. Laible’s bill also prohibits excluding other documents from display if they have “religious references,” which clearly includes the Ten Commandments.
“It’s just part of the overall plan to put their biblical principles into civil law,” McAdam says. “That’s obviously not what this country was based on. It’s a shame that it passed so easily.”
Contrasting sharply with Laible’s success is the Legislature’s failure to enact Senate Joint Resolution 8, carried by Sen. Ken Toole, a Helena Democrat and MHRN founder.
The resolution, supported by many Bitterroot Valley residents alarmed by attempts to force local schools to teach creationism, says the Legislature “supports local adoption of a science curriculum that is based on sound scientific principles,” instead of religion. Toole’s proposal, which also says the state recognizes the importance of church-state separation, was unceremoniously shelved in committee.
Laible’s SB 2 now heads to Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s desk, where higher powers may or may not intervene before he decides to sign or veto it.
“We’re looking at the legislation,” spokesman Adam Pimley says.