April 2018 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Several state legislatures have proposed bills that would require the words “In God We Trust” to be displayed in public schools.

On Feb. 21 – a week after 17 people were massacred at a Florida high school and a day after state legislators refused to advance a ban on assault rifles that was requested by student survivors – the Florida House instead adopted House Bill 839, which would require “In God We Trust” to be conspicuously displayed in every public school.

“Proponents of the bill claim they want to require public schools to post this phrase simply because it is the national motto,” said AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog. “But their own words betray these claims and divulge their real purpose – to encourage students to believe in God.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Kim Daniels (D-Jacksonville) repeatedly referenced her religious motivation. On the House floor, she explained “that God is positive” and he “is the light. And our schools need light in them like never before.” She continued, “As a believer, we do not have to get in our closets to worship God” and “we cannot put God in a closet when the problems we have are bigger than us.” Instead, she said we should place this phrase in the schools so “our children can see something positive.”

In January, Florida Rep. Larry Lee (D-Ft. Pierce) explained that he supports the bill because “the nation was ‘built on God’ and the bill is a great idea at a time when many young people aren’t going to church,” according to Fox News.

Although HB 839 did not become law before Florida’s legislative session ended on March 11, legislators instead inserted the “In God We Trust” display language into a must-pass education funding bill, House Bill 7055. Republican Gov. Rick Scott quickly signed the bill into law; it also includes expanding an existing private school voucher program and creating a new one.

Florida isn’t the only state pushing an “In God We Trust” bill. The Wyoming House in late February passed House Bill 133, which requires the posting of the phrase in every public school classroom and library, in the lobby of every state-owned or -leased building and in the state capitol building.

An Oklahoma Senate committee passed Senate Bill 1016, which would require school superintendents and officials of state agencies to place a poster of “In God We Trust” in school classrooms and public buildings that are maintained or operated using state funds. And the Arizona Senate passed a bill that would allow public school teachers to post “God Enriches” on the walls of their classrooms.

“Clearly, these bills are a waste of taxpayer dollars and time – no one needs a constant reminder of one of our national mottos,” said AU’s Garrett. “But worse, these bills are intended to encourage kids to believe in God, which our public schools are not allowed to do.”

Not all legislators are willing to push religion on public school students. Florida Rep. Carlos Smith (D-Winter Park), who voted against HB 839, tweeted, “Let’s keep a clear separation between church + state. Forcing our public schools to post ‘In God We Trust’ in a conspicuous place is inappropriate.”