Written by Don Byrd
Last week, South Dakota became the latest state to enact legislation requiring public schools to post prominently the motto “In God We Trust” on school grounds. The law also mandates that if the signs spark litigation, the state will provide legal defense and pay for any legal expenses incurred by school districts.
Here is an excerpt from Senate Bill 55, which was signed into law by Governor Kristi Noem on Tuesday.
Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, the national motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” shall be displayed in each public school. The display shall be located in a prominent location within each public school. The display may take the form of a mounted plaque, student artwork, or any other appropriate form as determined by the school principal. The display shall be easily readable and may be no smaller than twelve inches wide by twelve inches high. For the purposes of this section, a prominent location is a school entryway, cafeteria, or other common area where students are most likely to see the national motto display.
More significant than this individual statute is the context in which it has become law. Similar “In God we Trust” legislation has been passed across the country over the last year as part of a coordinated legislative campaign to increase the references to religion in public spaces, especially public schools. “Project Blitz” aims to break down the separation of church and state with increasingly troubling legislation. “In God We Trust” is, the creators explain, just Phase One.
That’s why the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and other civil and religious liberty advocates have signed a letter opposing Project Blitz. That coalition calls it an “alarming effort… to harness the power of the government to impose the faith of some onto everyone else, including our public school students.”
The measure will go into effect for the 2019-2020 school year. You can read the bill here.