A new South Dakota law that mandates displaying an “In God We Trust” logo in all public schools is historically dubious and highly exclusionary.
The law is part of the nationwide legislative push by Project Blitz, which is a stealth campaign to inject religious bills into state legislatures across the country. The motto insultingly confuses patriotism with piety, a perception that has bred discriminatory attitudes toward nonbelievers. These laws are about advancing the big lie that the United States was “founded on God” or Christianity, thus dismantling the wall between religion and government.
The historical reality is quite to the contrary. “In God We Trust” was belatedly adopted as a motto when President Eisenhower signed legislation at the behest of the Knights of Columbus and other religious entities, which undertook a national lobbying campaign during the height of 1950s zealotry. What especially reveals the disgracefulness of this era is the fact that many prominent Founders of our country were deists and promoters of the Enlightenment. Our nation’s original motto, E Pluribus Unum [out of many, come one], chosen by the distinguished committee of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, fosters the concept of unity. “In God We Trust” is a completely inappropriate motto for our nation, given the fact that the U.S. Constitution is itself godless, and the document’s only references to religion are exclusionary, such as barring any religious test for public office.
It’s a terrible violation of freedom of conscience to inflict a godly message on a captive audience of schoolchildren — especially in this age of increasing diversity. The nonreligious segment of the U.S. population is currently the largest “denomination,” surpassing Roman Catholics at almost 24 percent of the populace. One-third of Millennials are “Nones,” and one-fifth of Gen Z explicitly identifies as atheist or agnostic. A large portion of the schoolkids in South Dakota belong to Gen Z — and with the required display of an explicitly religious motto, religion is being imposed on the freethinkers among them.
As Freedom From Religion Founder principal founder Anne Gaylor always pointed out, the religious motto isn't even correct: “To be accurate, it would have to read ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn't that be silly?”
The people of South Dakota, including its public-school students, are ill-served by such a wrongheaded directive.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit with 30,000 members across the country, including in South Dakota. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and to educate the public about matters relating to nontheism. The organization has placed eye-catching billboards in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, and is putting one up in Pierre next month, to protest the new law.
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