As students around the nation go back to school over the next few weeks, many will find a new phrase displayed proudly throughout their schools’ property. Kentucky is the latest state to require the National Motto “In God We Trust” to be put up in every school.
The bill was signed into existence in March by Republican Governor Matt Bevin and requires that every school will have a sign with the phrase posted in prominent areas of the school or where those who attend the school are most likely to see it. Potential spots for the new signs are in common areas such as the cafeteria, school entryways, and main office.
Republican Representative Brandon Reed, who is also a Christian minister, initially filed for the measure. Last year he said, “I really like for the kids, when they go in, to see our national motto. So when they go into the common area like the cafeteria or wherever inside the school, they can see that.”
If a school fails to comply with the new law, there is no immediate penalty. However, local residents or citizens can sue the district as a result.
And while many parents and members of the community are enthusiastically welcoming the signage, there are those who oppose the measure, saying that it “distracts school officials from fulfilling their core mission” of education, while others such as the American Civil Liberties Union say it “has the appearance of endorsing religion” and is a direct violation of church and state.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Associated Press, “Our position is that it’s a terrible violation of freedom of conscience to inflict a godly message on a captive audience of schoolchildren.”
Others, such as Kentucky’s 16th District’s PTA President Penny Christian says, “I am a Christian, I just don’t believe that the school is the venue where my daughter learns anything about Christianity or religion unless it’s in a historical context.”
However, the supreme court already ruled in favor of the phrase when they decided not to remove it from our currency in June.
Attorney and atheist Michael Newdow attempted to have the phrase banned from money, claiming that it created a “religious establishment,” much like the official state church of England.
According to the judges, “the Establishment Clause (of the First Amendment) must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings. The Supreme Court has long recognized the ‘unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of the government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.’”
This makes the phrase less about religion than about our country’s history and the principles we were founded on. The National Motto is no different.
And that is precisely the reason President Eisenhower made it our national motto in 1956 after heard a sermon by Reverend George Docherty in Washington.
During this sermon, the minister spoke about President Abraham Lincoln and his use those two words, “under God” during the Civil War in the Gettysburg Address, which is arguably one of the greatest national speeches in our history and the one that inspired “In God We Trust” to be put on our currency.
The speech, however, was not an attempt to teach the people about God; it was used to remind our country of the principles our nation was built on, to bring them to a place of unity for justice. According to Lincoln and Rev. Docherty, the phrase is what separates the US from totalitarian regimes elsewhere in the world.
Docherty said, “Now, Lincoln was not being the original in that phrase. He was simply reminding the people of the basis upon which the Nation won its freedom in its Declaration of Independence.”
He went on to cite the Declaration and the fact that it mentions God four times, using the terms “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the World, “divine Providence,” and God.
Eisenhower was moved by the sermon and the patriotism that flowed from it. He pushed for both our National Motto and the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and a few short months later they were signed into law.
Eisenhower said that he wanted every American child to be reminded of the “true meaning” of our nation, reiterating “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future” and to “strengthen those spiritual weapons which will forever be our country’s most powerful resource.”