Written by Don Byrd
Several state legislatures across the country have caught an “In God We Trust” fever. The most recent is North Carolina, where proposed legislation (HB 965) would require all schools to post the phrase in a prominent place.
The News and Observer report includes an important concern raised by the local ACLU – namely that posting the phrase is unnecessary and could make some students feel unwelcome.
“When any student walks into school to learn, they should be greeted equally and with respect — not confronted with divisive and unnecessary displays that send a message to students of different religious views, or none at all, that they are second-class or not welcome,” ACLU communications director Mike Meno said.
Similar bills have made their way through several other state legislatures this year – including Tennessee and Louisiana. Is that a coincidence? Probably not. As Frederick Clarkson writes at Religion Dispatches, such bills are part of an organized playbook of model legislation presented by some religious freedom advocates.
Bills promoting “our country’s religious heritage” fall under the first category – or those likely to face the least opposition – according to the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation’s 2017 “Report and Analysis on Religious Freedom Measures.” “The general plan,” Clarkson writes, “is to begin with the less controversial measures to get legislators comfortable with the subject matter; to seek small victories first.”
So, what kind of legislation is in Categories 2 and 3? Resolutions “Recognizing the Importance of Religious History and Freedom” and “Religious Liberty Protection Legislation.” In other words, it may not be your imagination that several states are simultaneously promoting similar legislation aimed at religious themes. Furthermore, it may not be the state legislators themselves who are writing the bills.