‘In God We Trust:’ South Dakota Schools Display National Motto Under New Law

By Simon Veazey
Simon Veazey
Simon Veazey
Freelance Reporter
Simon Veazey is a UK-based journalist who has reported for The Epoch Times since 2006 on various beats, from in-depth coverage of British and European politics to web-based writing on breaking news.
July 25, 2019 Updated: July 26, 2019

Students returning to South Dakota schools in August will be greeted by the U.S. official national motto, “In God We Trust,” after a new state law came into force over the summer.

The law, passed back in March, compels all public schools to display “In God We Trust” in a prominent position in the school, in lettering at least 12 inches high.

Schools are complying with the new law in a variety of ways, according to the local schools board.

“Some have plaques. Other have it painted on the wall, maybe in a mural setting,” Associated School Boards of South Dakota Executive Director Wade Pogany told The Associated Press. In one school he said “it was within their freedom wall. They added that to a patriotic theme.”

The legislation allows displays to take the form of plaques, student art projects, and other kinds of artwork approved by a school’s principal.

Epoch Times Photo
A clock and the motto “In God We Trust” over the Speaker’s rostrum in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber in Washington on Dec. 8, 2008. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

In the Rapid City Area Schools district, the motto has been transferred onto walls using a stencil, according to Rapid City Journal.

A number of other states, such as Florida and Nebraska, introduced similar legislation in recent years. Mississippi passed a similar law back in 2001.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along some with other atheist organizations, are opposed to the law, saying it violates the separation of church and state, which they claim is implicit in the Constitution.

“Our position is that it’s a terrible violation of freedom of conscience to inflict a godly message on a captive audience of schoolchildren,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, foundation co-president, told AP.

The school boards association was okay with the legislation, according to Pogany, but had insisted on protection from potential lawsuits.

“One of our concerns was that this would be contested. So we had asked the legislature to put a ‘hold harmless’ clause into the bill. The state would then defend the schools and pay the cost of the defense,” Pogany said.

The schools have to cover the cost of the actual display.

“In God We Trust” was officially adopted as the national motto in 1956, when it began to feature on banknotes.

Epoch Times Photo
The phrase “In God We Trust” can be seen on an American $10 bill on Oct. 23, 2008. (Hugh Pinney/Getty Images)

But it first appeared on coins as far back as 1864, according to the U.S. Treasury website.

Although the exact origins of the phrase are unknown, its close relationship with American patriotism and national values could owe much to the fact that it features in the final verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written back in 1814: “And this be our motto—’In God is our trust.'”

American flag flies in Middletown
A file photo of an American flag. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)

Last month, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on June 10 that attempted to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency.

The appeal was brought to the high court by 29 atheists, children of atheists, and atheist groups, after they lost the case last year at a federal appeals court in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Michael Newdow, the activist attorney who is known for challenging the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance at the Supreme Court, argued in the petition (pdf) that the government had violated his client’s constitutional rights under the Establishment Clause and the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause by placing “In God We Trust” on every coin and currency bill because they have turned the appellants, who are all atheists, into “political outsiders.”

The Supreme Court did not give a reason for its rejection of the case (pdf).

Back in August 2018, Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the atheists’ appeal, ruling that the printing of “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency is constitutional, citing its longstanding use and saying it was not coercive (pdf).

Epoch Times reporter Janita Kan contributed to this report. 

[The article has been updated to reflect the correct state in the header, which previously stated Sout Carolina, not South Dakota]

Simon Veazey
Freelance Reporter
Simon Veazey is a UK-based journalist who has reported for The Epoch Times since 2006 on various beats, from in-depth coverage of British and European politics to web-based writing on breaking news.