Indiana Bill Requires National Motto ‘In God We Trust’ in Schools, Protects Religious Views

January 27, 2019 Updated: January 27, 2019

A bill was proposed in Indiana on Jan. 10 that, if passed, would require public and charter schools to place a poster or framed picture in every classroom and library with the country’s national motto: “In God We Trust.” Flags of the country and state must be included in the poster or framed picture of a specified dimension.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Ind.), would also mean that any school offering an elective course on “surveying religions of the world … may also include as part of the survey course’s curriculum the study of the Bible.” Additionally, schools may be required to teach “various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science,” the bill read.

A similar bill was proposed by Rep. Kimberly Daniels (D-Fla.) and passed in 2018, requiring that each school district display the official state and national motto, “In God We Trust,” in specified paces. Daniels’s proposition did not address the teaching of religious views in the classroom.

Reference to Former Law

Lincoln Elementary School in Indiana.
Lincoln Elementary School, East Chicago, Indiana, taken on Feb. 12, 2012. (Lotzman Katzman/Flickr)

Those in opposition to the proposed bill are referencing the case Edwards V. Aguillard.

The Louisiana law was overturned in the U.S. Supreme Court by the opinion of Justice Brennan on June 19, 1987. A law called the Balanced Treatment for Creation—Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Act, more commonly referred to as the Creationism Act, prohibited teaching the theory of evolution unless it was accompanied by teaching of creation science or the theory of divine creation. The Act did not require the teaching of evolution or creationism but stated that where one theory is presented, then the other theory must be presented as well.

But the Act was ruled unconstitutional in the lower court after it failed a three pronged test that the Court developed in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).

The three reasons that the court deemed the law unconstitutional were:

  1. the law did not have a clear secular purpose
  2. the law endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind
  3. the law sought the help of government to achieve a religious purpose, thereby mixing the interests of both church and state.

Supporters of the Balanced Treatment for Creation—Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Act argued that the Act did have the secular purpose of “protecting academic freedom” and advanced a “basic concept of fairness.”

With respect to the new bill introduced by Kruse in Indiana, it is required to maintain a “neutral, objective, and balanced” curriculum. It also cannot “encourage or promote acceptance of any particular religion,” reads the bill.

Parents Have the Last Word

In God We Trust plaque above voting notices.
Election officials affix voting notices to the wall, below a plaque that states ‘IN GOD WE TRUST,’ at the Hazleton City Hall on May 15, 2018, in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Also, Chapter 13 of the new bill is dedicated to the fundamental right of the parent to direct the education of their child, and emphasizes that the school may not infringe on that right unless it demonstrates that its interest is “of the highest order and not otherwise served.”

Parents will also have the ability to request that their child’s principal “allow the student to attend a school for religious instruction that is conducted by a church … or an association that is organized for religious instruction” incorporated under Indiana law for a maximum of two hours a week. Academic credit for this time will be given to the student.

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