“In God We Trust” signs are increasingly being placed in public schools and other public venues across America as more and more states pass laws allowing or mandating references to the divine.
These laws have emerged as their proponents seek to expand references to God or the Bible in the public arena, motivated by reasons ranging from honoring tradition to providing direction and hope.
Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a pastor and Democratic representative for Florida House of Representatives District 14 proposed such legislation in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas school massacre.
Daniels cited divine inspiration in her efforts to try to bring about a situation in which every public school student in Florida is educated in a school that features a sign saying “In God We Trust.”
God “is the light. And our schools need light in them like never before,” the Jacksonville Democrat said on Feb. 21, according to the Washington Post. “It is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed. But the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart.”
“This motto is inscribed on the halls of this great Capitol and inked on our currency, and it should be displayed so that our children will be exposed and educated on this great motto, which is a part of this country’s foundation,” Daniels said while pushing her bill (HB 839) in the House Committee, reported Orlando Sentinel. “Something so great should not be hidden.”
The bill passed and was signed into law.
The new statute (1003.44), which took effect on July 1, states: “Each district school board shall adopt rules to require, in all of the schools of the district and in each building used by the district school board, the display of the state motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ designated under s. 15.0301, in a conspicuous place.”
Lawmakers in other states have also taken steps to signify God’s presence in public spaces.
Arizona granted their schools the right to post the state’s motto in English, which appears in Latin on the Grand Canyon state seal—”God Enriches.”
The Arizona Senate in March passed Senate Bill 1289, allowing the state motto “Ditat Deus”—or its English translation—to the list of phrases allowed to be read and posted in the classroom.
Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), who introduced the bill, was cited by KTAR news as saying that it would “be a good history lesson for students to learn where this came from.”
The Secular Coalition of Arizona (Secular AZ) expressed its opposition to the bill, arguing that it undercuts the division between church and state.
“This bill is clearly part of the legislature’s ideological push in recent years to chip away at secular government,” said Tory Roberg, the director of government affairs for Secular AZ. “By rephrasing the historical motto Ditat Deus into English, this bill divorces it from its historic usage and illegally allows schools to promote the belief in the god associated with the Judeo-Christian Bible.”
Arkansas passed a similar law to Florida’s in 2017, requiring the posting of “In God We Trust” in every classroom. Arkansas state Rep. Jim Dotson sponsored the measure and has since helped other lawmakers draft similar bills.
“Our history and our heritage is incredibly important, making sure that we as a nation remember our roots, remember where we came from,” Dotson told The Washington Post. “America is an exceptional nation. It’s the greatest nation in the history of this planet. Obviously, that success is attributed not just to individuals but probably some higher power than ourselves.”
Some states and lawmakers have gone further still, fighting to allow or require the Ten Commandments in public schools and public places.
Alabama voters passed an initiative in November permitting the decalogue (Ten Commandments) to be posted on state property. Supporters of the bill, according to The Washington Post, are hopeful that the initiative sparks litigation that will take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where positive adjudication would be set a precedent.
The Ten Commandments initiative comes on the heels of an earlier Alabama state resolution allowing all state institutions to display the “In God We Trust” motto inside all public schools.
Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told Forbes that the recent push to spread references to God could be attributed to a “more conservative stamp” on the federal government during Trump’s presidency, emboldening activists and legislators.
Boston said one of the concerns about promoting religious references was that it could isolate nonreligious students.
Daniels argues that signs like “In God We Trust” are historically and symbolically valuable because they imprint in people’s “minds and in their hearts what it meant to the people who came to this country for religious liberty,” she told CBN News in February.
“I believe with all the negativity going on, our children need to know the foundation of what this country is all about and what it was founded on,” she said.
“God is positive; I put that forth like that because people want to make God a negative thing; God is good,” Daniels said. “And God is the Creator; He’s the Initiator; He’s the Alpha; He’s the Omega, and our children need to see that because the eyes are the gateway to the soul.”