Written by Don Byrd

The Tennessee General Assembly sent a bill to the Governor earlier this week that would require all public schools to post “In God We Trust” prominently on school grounds. The legislation passed the State House easily after unanimous approval in the State Senate. You can read the bill, titled the “National Motto in the Classroom Act,” here.

The Tennessean has more:

“Our national motto is on our money. It’s on our license plates. It’s part of our national anthem,” [bill sponsor Rep. Susan] Lynn said. “Our national motto and founding documents are the cornerstone of freedom and we should teach our children about these things.”

The bill requires schools display the motto in a prominent location where students are likely to see it, like a school entryway, cafeteria or common area. It offers more freedom on what form it takes, suggesting that it could be a mounted plaque or student artwork. 

The passage comes as similar bills are making their way through several state legislatures around the country, including Florida and South Carolina. So, I have an honest question: what is the source of these In God We Trust bills?

It is true that the phrase is printed on currency and can be seen on numerous government buildings. In God We Trust has withstood multiple constitutional challenges claiming it is an improper endorsement of religion. In the context of schools, however, courts have made a point of noting how children are particularly susceptible to religious coercion, hence the constitutional limitation on ceremonial prayers and other religious displays has been more stringent in the school setting.

Whether or not such a requirement is lawful, though, is perhaps not the most pressing question. Instead, I wonder: Is it appropriate? A good idea? Should schools give prominent voice to this expression of civil religion? Should states demand it?