New Texas law requires posting ‘In God We Trust’ in schools, others warn of brazen Christian environment as students return to public schools
A new law in Texas requires schools to prominently display “In God We Trust” posters that are donated to school districts for that purpose (Senate Bill 797 passed in 2021). This fall, school districts across the state have been receiving framed posters from organizations and companies interested in promoting Christianity in public spaces. (School districts also are receiving donations of a different nature: A Florida activist is trolling the state by raising money for posters with “In God We Trust” printed in Arabic, rather than English.)
“In God We Trust” postings at public schools are not a new concern, and they may at first glance appear to be a relatively benign practice. However, viewed in the context of the broader, growing threat of Christian nationalism, this practice takes on an even more troublesome meaning. As I have posted previously, such postings are the first step in a coordinated initiative to advance Christian nationalism. A coalition — which includes BJC — issued a statement back in 2019 opposing the “Project Blitz” effort and warning of its intentions:
Project Blitz promotes a three-tiered framework of state bills meant to incrementally redefine religious freedom and tear down the separation of church and state, with each tier laying the groundwork for the next. This framework starts by pushing what its authors believe will be less controversial measures, such as requiring “In God We Trust” to be posted in public schools. Using those bills as a foothold, it then seeks to pass more dangerous legislation…
This year, it’s hard not to be particularly concerned about public school students, who will encounter religious trappings in a new and uncharted environment that may be especially dangerous to their religious freedom. Because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton, which upheld a public school coach’s practice of praying on the field after games, there are increasing concerns that teachers, coaches and other school officials will be emboldened to lead or engage in religious activity during the school day, pressuring students to follow as a result. The fact that the Court’s decision appears to apply only to a narrow set of facts may not be a deterrent for those determined to increase the influence of Christianity in our public schools, especially since the opinion provides little guidance for where the line must be drawn.
Faced with this new reality, some are appealing to school officials’ sense of fairness and compassion, urging restraint regardless of what may or may not be allowed post-Kennedy. In an op-ed for the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Laura Belin recalls her positive experience as a Jewish high school athlete, pleading with coaches not to alienate their students with religious activities:
I have no idea whether our coach, Steve France, was a church-going or spiritual person. I remember his wisdom and kindness and words of encouragement. I remember never feeling out of place as a Jew on a mostly-Christian team. My friend who was part of central Iowa’s tiny Zoroastrian community also played tennis for Valley all four years.
Many adults have told me they always felt uncomfortable as they went along with [prayer] traditions at their schools. Others avoided sports so as not to be put in that isolating, alienating situation.
I’m grateful Coach France never forced me to choose between honoring my own faith and being part of a team bonding ritual.
Belin is right. Just because school officials believe they are allowed to engage in religious activity at school, it doesn’t mean they must. In fact, far from restricting religious liberty, refraining from applying even subtle religious pressures aimed at schoolchildren is an important means of honoring religious freedom for all.