A group of 13 Republican state legislators are proposing a bill that would require all public buildings and schools in Kansas to post the national motto, “In God We Trust.”
The House Bill 2476, which was introduced on Jan. 30, would mandate that all public school classrooms and libraries, public colleges and universities, and all state and municipal buildings display the motto, alongside the flags of Kansas and the United States.
“It should be displayed as an acknowledgment of our country’s history and founding principles,” state Rep. Michael Capps, a lead Republican sponsor of the bill, told local news outlet The Wichita Eagle.
State Rep. Stephanie Clayton (D) raised concerns over the potential message to atheists. “I already have some heartburn here,” she said, reported The Wichita Eagle. “Because not everyone in this country or state does believe in God.”
Meanwhile, Capps noted that Kansas’s state constitution also mentions God. “Does having the reference to God in the Kansas state constitution make every atheist feel second-class?” he asked, the Associated Press reported.
Kansas’s proposed law is following in the footsteps of eight other states that have made the display of “In God We Trust” in public schools mandatory, namely Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. In July 2019, South Dakota became the latest state where public schools must display the motto in “a prominent location” or other common areas where students are most likely to see the it, such as an entryway or cafeteria.
Some other states including Alabama, Arizona, and Texas, have passed similar legislation that allows, but does not require, “In God We Trust” to be posted in public schools. In Georgia and Ohio, such displays are only allowed if they are donated. Arkansas state law rules that if such a display is donated to a public school, it must be posted there.
“In God We Trust” first began appearing on U.S. coins in 1864 during the Civil War. In 1955, nearly a century later, it was placed on paper banknotes and in 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a law designating the phrase a national motto.
In 2018, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a case (pdf) by a group of atheists who argued that the practice of placing the religious message on federal reserve notes and coins violated their First Amendment-guaranteed free speech and religious rights. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court turned back a similar case from Michael Newdow, a secularist advocate known for trying to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, maintaining that “In God We Trust” on money is constitutional.