The law requires the mention of ‘God,’ despite the fact the schools are public
A new bill signed into law by South Dakota governor Kristi Noem will now require all public schools in the state to display the phrase “In God We Trust” on the walls. The message is supposed to be prominently displayed in all 149 South Dakota school districts on the first day of classes this year.
According to South Dakota lawmakers, the law is meant to inspire “patriotism” with students. Religious freedom issues in America are often hotly debated and misunderstood, as the U.S. Supreme Court has long ruled that the Constitution prohibits public school-sponsored prayer and religious indoctrination.
Painting the phrase “In God We Trust” on the walls of a school may not necessarily be filed under “prayer” or indoctrination, but it’s not exactly politically or religiously neutral either. The ACLU, or example, “works to protect public school students’ religious freedom by curbing the practice of school-sponsored prayer and proselytizing.”
The phrase “In God We Trust” has been the official motto of the United States since 1956, and its appearance on U.S. currency dates back to the Civil War. Back in 2006, a U.S. judge in California wrote in Newdow v. Congress of the United States that this motto is “excluded” from the First Amendment because it has “no theological or ritualistic impact” because of its “patriotic” and “ceremonial character.”
Though it can certainly be argued that the mention of “God” in general is the opposite of secular. And the fact that when “God” is mentioned in the United States, it’s usually in reference to the Christian religion.
According to the new law, the phrase must be displayed “in a prominent location” in each school, such as the school entryway, cafeteria, or other common areas. It also must be “easily readable” and not smaller than twelve inches wide by twelve inches high.
Concerns have already sprung up in Rapid City, South Dakota, where an official said the school district has heard talk of the law being challenged in court. “We are a conservative area so [support for the bill is] probably about half and half,” Rapid City Area Schools district spokeswoman Katy Urban says. “We have a lot of community members who are very supportive of it, but we’ve also had a number of people, staff members included, who are very uncomfortable with it.”
When it comes to the law, it seems like there’s some artistic freedom, if nothing else: the actual style of the display will be left up to the school principal and can range from a mounted plaque to student artwork.
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