What do you usually expect to see on the walls of a public school?
Posters, advertisement, maybe even a little graffiti?
It turns out the walls of schools in South Dakota will look a little different this year.
A bill signed by the state’s current governor mandates that public schools display the national motto — “In God We Trust” — from the start of this school year.
It’s a victory for religious expression in the United States!
Governor Kristi Noem signed the “In God We Trust” bill into effect this summer, hoping to inspire patriotism and unity. The bill mandates that any display of this motto must be at least 12 inches by 12 inches and displayed in a “prominent place” in each school.
“A prominent location is defined as a school entryway, cafeteria, or other common area where students are likely to see it,” according to the bill.
Make no mistake: this motto is meant to be seen by all!
Each school can choose how it displays the national motto. Some schools have chosen plaques, while others are using murals or simple wall paintings to fulfill the law.
One school in the state included the phrase on a “freedom wall” or a patriotic display.
Unsurprisingly, this bill has raised great controversy for lawmakers, educators, and students across South Dakota.
“Our position is that it’s a terrible violation of freedom of conscience to inflict a godly message on a captive audience of schoolchildren,” declared Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A group of students from Stevens High School in Rapid City petitioned to allow the word “God” in the motto to be “interchangeable with Allah, Yahweh, science, Buddha, Brahman, and ‘ourselves.’”
This request reflects America’s current struggle over religion and the nation’s impulse to trust in itself instead of the One True God.
It certainly took great boldness on Governor Noem’s part to sign such a controversial law into effect!
“In God We Trust” has been the national motto since 1956, when President Eisenhower decreed it so. The phrase has been inscribed on the nation’s currency since the 1860s.
“In God We Trust” has been a controversial motto over the last several decades, as culture wars on religion have risen in frequency and intensity. Some argue that the use of the phrase alienates those who do not believe in the God of the Bible.
“I think that’s a really foundational element of American society…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,” said one student.
But others disagree, welcoming the addition of the national motto to their school day.
“It’s a really great thing for our schools and our districts and that kids are seeing it posted on a daily basis,” shared one school staff member.
While disagreement over the presence of the motto is unlikely to fade, the bill provides support for schools in this matter.
According to the bill, “Any schools that face a lawsuit or complaint as a result” of posting the motto “will be defended by the state attorney general at no cost.”
“If the schools become responsible for legal fees or monetary damages, the state will take those on.”
It’s a switch from the government’s usual stance on religious expression in schools and other public spaces.
Other states are starting to take their cues from South Dakota too.
Legislators in Indiana are considering a new law that would add posters displaying the motto to public school classrooms. Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Arizona have enforced similar legislation as well.
Additionally, the city of Bakersfield, California recently mandated the addition of “In God We Trust” decals to police and fire vehicles.
“I love the motto. It’s meaningful. It’s powerful. It’s meant to encourage,” said one Bakersfield politician.
No doubt many students and teachers in South Dakota will feel the same way this fall.
Nevertheless, Governor Noem and those who have supported the bill will face much opposition in the coming months.
Pray that they will have the strength to stand for what they believe, and pray that God will use the motto to touch many students and teachers in South Dakota!