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'In God We Trust': Texas Law Requiring Public Schools Display National Motto Draws Backlash

08-22-2022

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Posters featuring the national motto are going up in public schools and colleges across Texas, and that's drawing backlash from several groups who argue the phrase is used to promote Christianity. 

A new Texas state law requires all public elementary, secondary schools, and institutions of higher education to post in their facilities "In God We Trust" posters if they are donated or purchased by private donations. 

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The Texas Tribune reports Senate Bill 797 passed during last year's legislative session. The law went into effect last year. 

The law says schools "must display in a conspicuous place in each building of the school or institution a durable poster or framed copy of the United States national motto 'In God We Trust.'" The poster must contain a representation of the United States flag centered under the national motto and a representation of the Texas state flag. 

Republican State Sen. Bryan Hughes wrote in a tweet the national motto asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God. 

However, the posters have drawn severe backlash from groups who are arguing on social media that the posters promote the Christian faith even though "In God We Trust" has been the national motto since 1956. 

National Motto's History in Congress and in Court

On July 30, 1956, the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution "declaring 'IN GOD WE TRUST' the national motto of the United States." The resolution passed both the House and the Senate unanimously and without debate. It replaced E pluribus unum, which had existed before as a de facto official motto. The United States Code at 36 U.S.C. § 302, now states: "'In God we trust' is the national motto." 

That resolution was reaffirmed in 2006, on the 50th anniversary of its adoption, by the Senate, and in 2011 by the House of Representatives, in a 396 to 9 vote. In 2000, the House additionally encouraged public displays of the motto.

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The motto is featured above the rostrum of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. It was carved into the wall in December of 1962.

In 1970, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in Aronow v. United States: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."

Texas Cellphone Company Donates Posters to Local School

Patriot Mobile, a Texas-based cellphone company that gives a portion of the company's profits to conservative causes, recently donated several "In God We Trust" framed posters to Southlake schools, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Scott Coburn, chief marketing officer for the company, made a presentation of the posters to the school board. According to the outlet, following Coburn's presentation, several citizens praised the donation during the public comment portion of the meeting. 

"There's a lot of criticism out there of course," Kelly McGuire said. "I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind everybody that last year admin allowed 'Black Lives Matter' signs on the senior high campus for about a semester, several days a week. So I'm not sure how people can complain on one hand about these signs under Texas law, and on the other hand, allow BLM signs."

Groups Speak Out Against Posters, One Muslim Group Welcomes Them

The Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition, or SARC, said in a statement the posters are a "blatant intrusion of religion" in a public institution. 

"SARC is disturbed by the precedent displaying these posters in every school will set and the chilling effect this blatant intrusion of religion in what should be a secular public institution will have on the student body, especially those who do not practice the dominant Christian faith," the statement said.

Sophie Ellman-Golan of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) told The Guardian she thinks the posters violate the so-called "separation of church and state" – a phrase which does not exist in the U.S. Constitution.

"These posters demonstrate the more casual ways a state can impose religion on the public," Ellman-Golan said. "Alone, they're a basic violation of the separation of church and state. But in the broader context, it's hard not to see them as part of the larger Christian nationalist project."

Meanwhile, the "In God We Trust" posters are being championed by a Muslim organization. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said this might allow for an opportunity for students to learn about other faiths, according to The Guardian

"The notion of trusting God is common across faiths," Corey Saylor, a CAIR spokesperson told the outlet. "Applied through that lens, the posters can foster discussions among Texas students about their various faiths and enhance understanding."

The National Debate Over the National Motto

The national motto has been in the spotlight in recent years.  As CBN News reported in 2021, Chesapeake, Virginia city council members voted unanimously to place "In God We Trust" decals on all city vehicles, receiving applause from those attending the meeting after the measure was passed.

Councilman Don Carey, who led the initiative, told CBN News the objective is to "rebuild a healthy patriotism that can unify people."

In 2019, a similar state law took effect in South Dakota requiring all public schools in the state's 149 districts to paint, stencil, or otherwise prominently display the national motto.

The South Dakota lawmakers who proposed the law said the requirement was meant to inspire patriotism in the state's public schools. Displays must be at least 12-by-12 inches and must be approved by the school's principal, according to the law.

Erik Leist, a Keller, Texas resident, and father of a kindergartner told The Texas Tribune the motto represents America's founding and he believes the law allows communities to do what they think is best.

"If it's important to communities, the community will come behind it," he said. "If it's not something that the community values, it's not gonna end up in the school."

Leist also said he sees it as just the nation's motto, not pushing any one religion.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of