Public Schools

South Dakota Students Get What Their Lawmakers Don’t: ‘In God We Trust’ Doesn’t Belong In Public Schools

  Liz Hayes

State legislators sponsoring bills to display “In God We Trust” in public schools may try to claim a patriotic motivation to promote the national motto, but the public is catching on that these bills are part of the Project Blitz agenda to impose Christian beliefs on public schoolchildren.

A group of Rapid City, S.D., high school students recently showed they aren’t fooled by the intent of the “In God We Trust” display bill that Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed into law in March.

The students – members of Stevens High School’s Working to Initiate Social Equality Club (WISE) – appeared before their school board this week to present their suggestion to meet the new law’s requirements while also trying to be more inclusive and welcoming of all students.

The sign includes the words “In God We Trust,” but the word “God” appears in a circle with other options, including Yahweh, Ourselves, Science, Allah, Brahman, Buddha and The Spirits. It’s a clever and compassionate attempt to follow the law while also recognizing the diverse religious and nonreligious beliefs of all students.

In God We Trust alternative sign

(PHOTO: The alternative display to “In God We Trust” offered by Stevens High School, S.D., students. CREDIT: Screenshot from KEVN TV.)

“[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 America to feel welcome and to be more in accordance with the First Amendment since we all have the freedom of religion,” Abigail Ryan, a Stevens student and member of WISE, told the Rapid City television station KEVN.

The station reported that the students told the school board, “We take great pride in being Americans,” and felt that simply displaying “In God We Trust” would favor Christianity and would make some students feel excluded. The station said the school board took no action on the proposal at the meeting.

Hopefully the Rapid City School Board follows these students’ lead, since the children clearly have a better handle than their state lawmakers on how these “In God We Trust” display bills can isolate and exclude children in the very public schools meant to foster their sense of community and inclusion.

Arkansas and Kentucky joined South Dakota in signing these display bills into law this year; a half-dozen other states did the same last year. More than 40 “In God We Trust” display bills were introduced in more than two dozen states in the last two years.

These bills are part of the Religious Right’s Project Blitz initiative to codify the U.S. as a Christian nation and misuse religious freedom as a sword to harm others instead of as a shield to protect. It’s the state legislative arm of the nationwide political movement attempting to weaponize religion in order to roll back positive social change.

Project Blitz’s strategy is to pass an increasingly ambitious set of state laws – starting in the public schools by displaying “In God We Trust” and establishing Bible classes. More than a dozen “Bible literacy” class bills were introduced in 11 states this year. Lawmakers believe these types of bills are less controversial, benign measures that can easily pass and have little opposition.

Once Project Blitz has a foothold in a state, it escalates to laws that promote prayer in public schools and use religion as the basis for discrimination, including permitting taxpayer-funded foster care agencies to discriminate against prospective parents and even children because they are LGBTQ or the “wrong” religion.

The rights of millions of Americans are at risk from these Project Blitz laws – they strip the rights of women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and the nonreligious and threaten the constitutional principle of the separation of religion and government.

That why we’re glad students like Abigail and the members of WISE in Rapid City are part of the coalition pushing back against Project Blitz and policies that seek to destroy the diversity that makes our country a strong nation. Join us – together we can protect religious freedom for all of us, not just some of us.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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