Sen. Hughes posted on Twitter that the national motto ‘asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God.’
By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | May 18, 2022
Senate Bill 797, co-authored by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Harris County) and passed during the 2021 regular legislative session, says that school districts that receive a donation of a “durable poster or framed copy of the United States national motto ‘In God We Trust’ ” must display it in a “conspicuous place in each building or institution.” Sen. Hughes posted on Twitter that the national motto “asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God.”
How much better would our public schools be if they followed the above title as a motto–”In reason we trust”–rather than the one promoted by the Legislature for our schools during the last legislative session? Indeed, how much better would the Legislature itself be if it allowed reason to guide its actions?
Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr in 1787 that we should “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” Too many of our politicians have chosen piousness over reason to promote their own candidacies, which is a blasphemy of sorts to many religious people, save for many Evangelicals, who want to establish a theocracy in place of democracy.
Several organizations actively support the new law. Niki Griswold, reporting for the Austin American-Statesman, wrote that Texas Values, a conservative Christian organization that advocates for Judeo-Christian values, is one such group. Members of the group Moms for Liberty donated several framed “In God We Trust” posters to various public schools in the Round Rock area.
Last November, the National Motto Project, based in Brazoria County, donated 25 framed “In God We Trust” posters to Hays CISD. The Yellow Rose of Texas Republican Women, along with the National Motto Project, have donated several “In God We Trust” posters to schools near Houston. Social media posts have reported that the Allen, Arlington, Belton, Burnet, Fredericksburg, Frisco, Keller, Lago Vista, Leander, Lovejoy, McKinney, and Red Oak districts have received donated posters as well. But none have yet appeared in Austin public schools.
Conservative groups like the Christian cellphone company Patriot Mobile have also donated the signs to schools in the state, according to Business Insider. Patriot Mobile also has put $500,000 into a political action committee supporting conservative candidates in the Carroll, Grapevine-Colleyville, Keller, and Mansfield school districts. The Texas Tribune reports that Patriot Mobile’s political arm, Patriot Mobile Action, “is led by a seasoned local political campaign expert and has contracted with top conservative political consulting firms that usually focus on statewide races and presidential campaigns.” Patriot Mobile has revealed that its PAC is a part of its plan to “put Christian conservative values into action” by targeting Texas’ public schools.
The Statesman‘s Griswold also noted that there are groups that oppose such indoctrination of public school children. The Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit that advocates for religious freedom, civil liberties and public education, says the law inappropriately inserts religion into public schools. Carisa Lopez, political director for the Texas Freedom Network, told the Statesman that “Texas schools should be a safe place for children to learn and grow free of outside interference. This law is another attempt by certain politicians to continue to chip away at the separation of church and state. Our Constitution guarantees freedom from religion, and the state of Texas shouldn’t be making any religious requirements of our public schools.”
Sophie Ellman-Golan of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) told the Guardian newspaper, “These posters demonstrate the more casual ways a state can impose religion on the public. Alone, they’re a basic violation of the separation of church and state. But in the broader context, it’s hard not to see them as part of the larger Christian nationalist project.”
A community group concerned with the Carroll Independent School District, Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition (SARC), issued a statement after the district received motto posters to put in each school there: “SARC is disturbed by the precedent displaying these posters in every school will set and the chilling effect this blatant intrusion of religion in what should be a secular public institution will have on the student body, especially those who do not practice the dominant Christian faith.”
The background for this push to indoctrinate Texas school children began with Congress, which passed a joint resolution in 1955 that made “In God We Trust” the nation’s motto, replacing “e pluribus unum (from many, one).” A primary impetus for the motto change was to differentiate the United States, during the Cold War, from the Soviet Union, which embraced a sort of state atheism.
Now, the “In God We Trust” motto can be found on money, police cars, and government buildings. I’ve always thought it appropriate that the motto appear on the nations’s “filthy lucre,” since the seeking of the almighty dollar is the nation’s apparent over-riding purpose and the object of much worship. However, legal challenges arguing that the reference to God could be seen as government-endorsed prayer, impinging on Americans’ First Amendment rights, have failed several times over the last 67 years.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Austin’s resident public atheist from about 1963 to her murder in 1995, challenged the motto unsuccessfully, leading to a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 1979, which affirmed that the “primary purpose of the slogan was secular.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held earlier that the motto’s “use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.”
Such de minimus understandings of the words “In God we trust” must give true believers pause to consider that the concept of a belief in “God” is seen by the courts as a trivial, trifling, insignificant, and unimportant matter. For a believer, it would be reasonable to be offended by the religiously dismissive opinions of our judges.
[Rag Blog columnist Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, City Attorney, is retired and volunteers with the Final Exit Network as an Associate Exit Guide and contributor to the Good Death Society Blog.