Students who attend public schools in South Dakota will have a… unique addition to their school buildings this fall. “In God We Trust” must be visible to students per new state law. How visible are we talking? The motto must be inscribed on a wall and at least 12-by-12 inches. It can be either in stencil or paint, though it must be legible.
The law, which Republican Governor Kristi Noem signed in March, notes that it has to be displayed where students are “most likely” to see it. So forget loopholes like tossing it in the back of a closet—it’s gotta be in the entryway or highly-trafficked area, like gymnasium or cafeteria. To be clear: The law doesn’t provide schools with funding to create these displays.
As reported by The Associated Press, lawmakers support this move because they think it will promote patriotism. The obvious issue—along with wasting public school dollars and sheer time in adding this to buildings—is that the “motto” excludes people who are not Christian.
As reported by Rapid City Journal, a group of students from Rapid City proposed options for how to make the signage more inclusive. For example, by alternating “God” with Allah, Yahweh, Buddha, and even words like “science.”
“I think that’s a really foundational element of American society, is that we are a cultural melting pot and it is really important that we make all people who come to America to feel welcome and to be more in accordance with the First Amendment since we all have the freedom of religion,” high school student Abigail Ryan told KOTA-TV in an interview.
The Journal reports that as far as the board is concerned, nothing has come from the student’s effort.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation described it as a “stealth campaign” to push religion into the state. “Our position is that it’s a terrible violation of freedom of conscience to inflict a godly message on a captive audience of schoolchildren,” co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a news release.
The South Dakota attorney general’s office has said it has not received any lawsuits so far, as reported by NPR. The law states that if suits are filed against a school district, school board, or employee, the state’s attorney general will represent them for free.
Utah is now following suit with a similar requirement to have “In God We Trust” publicly displayed in schools. Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, and Arizona have all approved similar legislation in recent years. As a reminder, this phrase became the national motto only in 1956.
Oh—And Rapid City Area Schools community relations manager Katy Urban told NPR that stenciling (the cheaper option) the motto already cost Rapid City schools about $2,800. Imagine if that money went to oh, I don’t know, giving kids school supplies or lunch?