Even as a court ruled that it is illegal for schoolchildren to recite a Pledge of Allegiance that mentions God -- and then swiftly put an indefinite hold on that decision -- Virginia schools are preparing to quietly welcome Him into every foyer.
Starting Monday, every Virginia school will be required to hang a poster with the words "In God We Trust, the National Motto, enacted by Congress in 1956," in accordance with a law signed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) in May.
On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the pledge is unconstitutional because it calls the United States "one nation, under God." The opinion attracted the immediate objections of legal experts and politicians across the country, and by yesterday, the judge who wrote the ruling had placed an indefinite hold on it so it could be reviewed.
A three-member panel of the appeals court ruled 2 to 1 against the pledge Wednesday. Yesterday, the Justice Department said it will request that the full 11-member appeals court hear the case.
Meanwhile, Virginia school officials, who said they doubted that the tumultuous ruling would be upheld, prepared to frame and hang the national motto in the coming days, as planned.
"For us, the issue right now is that this is what we are being charged to do by state law. Unless something comes down the pipe that tells us to do differently, we'll go ahead and do it," said Fairfax County School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech.
In Virginia, where schoolchildren are also required by law to observe a minute of silence each day and to say the Pledge of Allegiance, the motto law requires only that schools "prominently post" the statement in a "conspicuous" place. In Loudoun County, each school will receive a framed copy of the motto and a letter from Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III suggesting that principals post it in a foyer and consider also posting copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
"I think maybe this is an opportunity to return to something that was commonplace just a generation ago," Hatrick said.
He said the posters can always come down if the Supreme Court rules against mentioning God in schools.
"We're not chiseling this into the wall. We're just hanging them up," he said.
There are some who hope the posters will come down.
Ayesha Kahn, legal director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said: "For the same reason that the 9th Circuit was troubled by the inclusion of 'under God,' one is reasonably troubled by the posting of 'In God We Trust.' The court recognized that children are impressionable and public schools should be places that are open to all people.
"It would be advisable for the Virginia legislature to reconsider this at this junction and not have school districts launch full scale ahead into these postings," she said.
Lillie Jessie, principal of Vaughn Elementary School in Woodbridge, said her school had received a "certificate-sized" "In God We Trust" sign, with instructions to hang it in a highly visible spot. She plans to display it near the American flag. However, she's not sure whether her young students will notice.
"The moment of silence, they noticed that, because they're doing it every day. With little kids, you have to say it and talk about it. If you don't say it and talk about it, it's just another picture on the wall," she said.
Sen. Nick Rerras (R-Norfolk), a sponsor of the legislation requiring the motto, said the motto and the pledge are reminders of the importance of God in American history.
"I think we need to remember that this is the greatest nation on earth. It was put together by people who were God-fearing people. If this nation is to remain strong, we need to remain a God-fearing people," Rerras said.
Larry Weeks, a Fauquier County Board of Supervisors member who just retired from 10 years of teaching, said that the difference between the Pledge of Allegiance ruling and the motto law is striking -- and that he believes passion for the pledge far outweighs support for the motto.
"If [the motto] were not there, I would not be wringing my hands. Take the pledge out, and I think that's something to go to arms about," he said.
Many school districts, including Loudoun and Fairfax, will use a colorful poster prepared by a nonprofit group, the Family Policy Network, which pushed the Virginia General Assembly to pass the law for the last two years.
The group, which founder Joe Glover described as "socially conservative and involved in a number of pro-family, Christian causes," today will mail out 3,200 posters featuring the words "In God We Trust" against the background of a waving American flag.
"This is something that is on the minds of most Virginians and Americans. It does not violate the consciences of any children who don't agree with that, and it certainly expresses the broad concern of the public that our faith should in be in God," he said.
Domenech said he will give school principals the choice of using the Family Policy Network posters or creating their own.
"My preference would have been to put up a dollar bill. We do need more of those from the state," he said.