Wall of separation: Religion and government make for an unholy mix

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The wall of separation between church and state, the constitutional principle famously espoused by Thomas Jefferson, has always been under attack. Yet in its shadow, religion in America has thrived in ways that are the envy of countries with established faiths. Yet some American lawmakers can’t leave well enough alone, seeking to inject religion into every aspect of national life.

One of those is Rep. Rick Saccone, a Republican from Elizabeth Township.

Not to be outdone by getting his colleagues to declare 2012 the Year of the Bible in Pennsylvania, and recently authoring a book titled “God in Our Government,” Mr. Saccone is pushing House Bill 1728 that, as originally written, would have directed school districts in the commonwealth prominently to display “In God We Trust” in each school building.

Fortunately, this dictate worthy of a monarch presiding over an established church was defanged somewhat thanks to a 196-0 vote that amended the bill to read that school districts “may” (not “shall”) display “In God We Trust” along with a copy of the Bill of Rights. But why go to this trouble at all?

Because, Mr. Saccone says, “In God We Trust” is the national motto and Congress adopted a resolution in 2011 encouraging its display in public school buildings. “The phrase ‘In God We Trust’ is so deeply woven into the fabric of American consciousness that one cannot help but be stirred to patriotism when hearing it,” Mr. Saccone wrote on his website. Unless, perhaps, that American has another faith — Judaism or Islam, for example — or is an atheist.

The bill gives a hint at which God is being referred to. In making the historical case for plastering the Almighty’s holy name over schools, it recalls that a Pennsylvanian, James Pollock, as director of the U.S. Mint, suggested “In God We Trust” being featured on currency. The Saccone bill notes that Pollock was known as “The Great Christian Governor.”

In an increasingly multicultural America, this bill is a prescription for divisiveness. Mr. Saccone may be right that it will survive court challenge, but why invite trouble of any sort, legal or social?

Nobody is suggesting that God’s name be stricken from the currency or that churches be put out of business. Thanks to the wall of separation between church and state, which Mr. Saccone seeks to reduce one brick at a time, religion will continue in America impervious to his imagined bogeyman of radical secularism. Government has other things to attend to.

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