South Dakota public schools will be required to publicly display the national motto “In God We Trust” beginning at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
What We Know:
- The legislation signed by Governor Kristi Noem, earlier this year, requires the words “In God We Trust” to be on display for students in the state’s 149 districts as each respective principal sees fit; the display must be 12 inches square and must be in a prominent location, meaning an entryway, cafeteria or student common area.
- The bill additionally protects schools from subsequent legal trouble the display may result in. Schools facing lawsuits or complaints will be defended by the state attorney general at no cost and the state will absorb any legal fees incurred as a result.
- A group of Stevens High School students proposed to the South Dakota School Board a new saying to display that is more religiously inclusive, including the words Ourselves, Science, Allah, Brahman, Buddha, The Spirits and Yahweh in addition to God. “I think that’s a really foundational element of American society is that we are a cultural melting pot and it is really important that we make all people who come to American feel welcome,” one of the student said. The school board heard the students but made no action.
- The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that works to bolster the separation of state and church in the US, has urged their South Dakota organization members to contact lawmakers and oppose this decision, but some districts have already stenciled the phrase on its walls. Indiana lawmakers are considering a similar bill to include “In God We Trust” in public schools and California has added the motto to police and fire vehicles.
- Earlier this month, the Supreme Court rejected a case to remove the motto “In God We Trust” from US currency. The case was filed by Michael Newdow, an activist attorney who also fought to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow argued the motto’s inclusion on currency was a government endorsement of religion and a violation of the First Amendment, defending atheist clients in the pursuit of their “sincere religious belief” that there is no God.
The debate on the national motto is long and rich with disagreement about freedom of religious practice and free speech.