When South Dakota’s children return to school this fall, they will be met by new “In God We Trust” postings around campus after Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law a bill requiring the motto to be prominently displayed in all public schools in the state. And they won’t be alone. Several states across the country have enacted similar legislation, despite concerns that it will give the appearance of religious endorsement or may make some students feel ostracized because of their faith (or their choice to practice no religion).
In South Dakota, as the displays are now being posted, ABCNews’ Ella Torres reports that many school staff members are “very uncomfortable” with the display, and a student proposal for a more inclusive alternative was ignored:
[A] group of students from [Rapid City Area School] district’s Stevens High School proposed to the school board an alternate version of the motto that included the names of Buddha, Yahweh and Allah, as well as the term ‘spirit,’ [spokeswoman Katy] Urban said. The group noted that the bill seemingly favored Christianity over other religions.
“That conversation didn’t go any further,” she said. “The board didn’t have any conversation about alternative versions.”
As I have posted several times this year, the fact that several states are simultaneously enacting similar legislation to adorn public schools with displays affirming religion is not likely a coincidence. Project Blitz is a coordinated campaign to introduce increasingly ambitious legislation promoting religion in publicly owned spaces, especially in public schools. And while displaying “In God We Trust” may seem innocuous – after all, it is a national motto – grade schools are a place to be especially mindful of the messages sent to children.
More importantly, as the Project Blitz playbook makes clear, “In God We Trust” is just the first step. In a statement opposing this initiative, a coalition (which includes BJC) explains:
Project Blitz promotes a three-tiered framework of state bills meant to incrementally redefine religious freedom and tear down the separation of church and state, with each tier laying the groundwork for the next. This framework starts by pushing what its authors believe will be less controversial measures, such as requiring “In God We Trust” to be posted in public schools. Using those bills as a foothold, it then seeks to pass more dangerous legislation, like bills that allow taxpayer-funded agencies to turn away couples seeking to foster or adopt children in need of stable and loving homes because they are same-sex or the “wrong” religion.
In sum, the statement warns, Project Blitz represents a “national effort to enshrine Christian nationalism in state laws across the country.” Religion, however, is not advanced by its integration with civic institutions, or by conflating religious expressions with patriotic expressions, no matter how seemingly benign.
For more on the growing threat that is Christian Nationalism, check out the new 10-part BJC Podcast which debuted July 31 (episode 1 is here), and visit ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org for more on the new BJC-led campaign on this topic.