Rep. Michael Capps leaned into Francis Scott Key's inspiring words to encourage House colleagues Thursday to rally behind a bill requiring every municipal, school, university and state building to prominently display the motto "In God We Trust," along with images of the Kansas and U.S. flags.

The repetitious displays financed through donations will reinforce ideas expressed by the nation's founders that citizens possess inalienable rights endowed by God, the Wichita Republican said.

"Our national motto, which neither recognizes any specific religion nor establishes any individual or corporate requirement thereto, may and should continue to be freely displayed as an acknowledgement of our country's history and founding principles," he said.

Democratic and Republican members of the House Federal and State Affairs, even those sympathetic to Capps' religious messaging, posed questions of Capps suggesting the legislation amounted to a government overreach.

Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and chairman of the committee, said he personally had a preference for the motto "E pluribus unum." It translates to "Out of many, one."

"Why did you choose this motto? Is there some trend out there?" Barker said.

Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, asked Capps if he believed in limited government. Capps said he did. Highberger said replacement of "E pluribus unum" as the nation's motto occurred in the 1950s, not in the 1770s as Capps suggested. In response, Capps pointed to Key's text in the "Star Spangled Banner," which in the early 1800s declared "In God is our trust."

"Almost all of our governmental displays of religiosity date from the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower and weren't in fact anything that were done by founding fathers and mothers of this country," Highberger said.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, said he was fond of the "In God We Trust" motto, but questioned whether placing the display in every public school classroom could be overkill. He suggested it might be sufficient to require displays at the main entrance of school buildings. Capps objected to downsizing the display, arguing it should reflect the wisdom of flying a flag in every classroom.

The bill sponsored by 13 House Republicans ought to be amended so operators of schools and other public buildings won't be forced to accept contributions from the Ku Klux Klan and other unsavory organizations, said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park. Capps said he hadn't anticipated that problem because the legislation wouldn't mandate disclosure of donors.

The House bill was sponsored by Reps. Emil Bergquist, R-Park City; Doug Blex, R-Independence; Kenneth Collins, R-Mulberry; Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee; Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs; Randy Garber, R-Sabetha; Cheryl Helmer, R-Mulvane; Michael Houser, R-Columbus; Ron Howard, R-Wichita; Bill Rhiley, R-Wellington; Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie; Paul Waggoner, R-Hutchinson, and Capps.

The League of Kansas Municipalities objected to House Bill 2476 because it would expose operators of thousands of public buildings to litigation.

"If required to display the national motto, it is foreseeable that someone could file suit against a city citing the display as a violation of the First Amendment, forcing a city to pay for attorney's fees and other litigation costs," said John Goodyear, a staff attorney with the municipality association.

He recommended an amendment obligating state government to pay all legal costs arising from enforcement of the law.

In response, Capps said anyone offended by references to God wouldn't be required to abide by the motto nor take action that might be interpreted as assenting to the declaration. He also pledged to donate 100 appropriately framed displays to Wichita schools in his House district.

Nick Fish, president of American Atheists, declared the bill fresh evidence of religious coercion in public education."These mandatory displays send the clear message that atheist students and teachers are second-class citizens in Kansas," Fish said. "It’s clear some lawmakers care more about forcing a religious message into school classrooms than teaching the facts."

He said Kansas’ bill was similar to model legislation offered through the Christian nationalist campaign, Project Blitz. The project emerged from advocacy of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, he said.

Capps said members of "fringe" groups offended by the motto legislation could move out of Kansas or beyond the border of the United States.

"Misguided people have been attempting to tear apart the foundation of our country and our states for decades, and the efforts by fringe groups today are no different," he said. "I will continue to pray for the atheists in Kansas."