BOISE — The words “In God We Trust” will be prominently displayed in the Idaho House and Senate chambers, above the chairs of the presiding officers.

A resolution approving the new joint rule passed the House on a 65-5 vote last week, and passed the Senate 29-3 on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said the intent of the legislation isn’t to promote or protect any particular religion. Rather, it’s to give lawmakers “a sense of why we’re here, a sense that we can look to other things in our world that we trust, and that we need to set a high standard while we’re here.”

He noted that the motto first came into prominence during the Civil War, when it was presented as an effort to restore national unity. The motto is also displayed above the speaker’s chamber in Congress, and above the entry to the U.S. Senate.

Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, was one of three senators to oppose the resolution.

“We are a government for the people of Idaho — all the people,” he said. “To me, putting the words ‘In God We Trust’ places a finger on the scales of government in favor of religious people who believe in a Christian god. What about the Jews, the Buddhists, the Native Americans, Muslims, seculars and atheists among many others? Some recognize a god, while others do not.

“One of my religion’s core principles is to respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This principle doesn’t lead me to support any religious message as part of our government. ... While putting up these words doesn’t violate the letter of the (First Amendment), I believe it violates the spirit of the amendment and sends a message that we don’t govern impartially with respect to our citizens’ religious freedom. Putting these words in such a prominent place provides the wrong message.”

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, was the only other senator to debate the resolution. He quoted from the Declaration of Independence, saying “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

“Our creator is God, and we trust him,” he said. “I believe when we remember God and that he is the source of our rights, we govern better. We defend liberty better — even for those who don’t believe in any god.”

The cost of placing the motto in the two chambers will be covered by private donations, Winder said.

“This (resolution) doesn’t establish any religion, or prohibit the exercise of any religion,” he said. “This has been litigated many times and found to be (constitutional).

“As we look around the world and see countries where God has been removed, where the free practice of religion has been removed, we see totalitarianism. We see communism. We see millions of people murdered.

“Why do people come to our country? I think it’s because of our base beliefs, that we are all equal.”

Placing the motto in the Idaho Legislature, Winder said, tells people “that we have something we can place our trust in.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.