On Thursday, the Kansas House of Representatives heard testimony regarding a bill that would require every public building and public school in the state to display the motto “In God We Trust.”
House Bill 2476, which has been sponsored by 13 Republicans, would compel all public buildings, universities, school libraries and classrooms to prominently display the motto.
Though the national motto of the United States has been “In God We Trust” since 1956, it is controversial for the government to promote such a religious theme.
The Supreme Court decided not to hear a case in 2019 from an atheist who said the motto should be removed from U.S. currency; according to the Washington Examiner, the defendant argued that the inscription violated the First Amendment, which forbids the establishment of a national religion.
One organization that has objected to the bill is the nonprofit American Atheists.
The group’s president, Nick Fish, argued the bill would marginalize those who don’t believe in God.
“This bill has nothing to do with educating Kansas students. It’s clear some lawmakers care more about forcing a religious message into school classrooms than teaching the facts,” Fish said, according to The Wichita Eagle.
State Rep. Michael Capps, the lead sponsor of the bill, responded to Fish’s concerns in an email to the outlet. He said he was proud to continue the work of President Dwight Eisenhower, who had signed into law the bill that established “In God We Trust” as the national motto.
Capps wrote that “misguided people” have been chipping away at America’s Christian foundations for years, adding that the motto “should be displayed as an acknowledgment of our country’s history and founding principles.”
“If fringe groups are offended, they are welcome to move elsewhere,” he said.
“I will continue to pray for the atheists in Kansas — praying they will come to find the love our country our Founders showed.”
Both Republicans and Democrats on the House’s Federal and State Affairs Committee voiced their apprehension about the bill after the Thursday hearing.
“I already have some heartburn here, because not everyone in this country or state does believe in God,” Democratic Rep. Stephanie Clayton said.
Republican Rep. Blake Carpenter also expressed qualms about the bill.
“I love our national motto, I do support it,” Carpenter said. “But I’m curious, do you think when you say ‘every classroom or library’ might be slight overkill instead of just putting it at the main entrance or the main lobby?”
Capps argued that the mandate for the displays is not excessive.
“Generally speaking, every classroom has an American flag in it and we don’t consider that to be overkill,” he said.
The displays, which would measure at least 11 inches wide by 14 inches tall, would feature the motto in large font and both the U.S. and Kansas flags.
The bill does not require that taxpayer dollars cover the price of the displays. According to the bill, the displays would be directly donated or purchased using donations.
Kansas is not the first state to consider bills that would require the national motto to be displayed publicly. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem signed a similar bill into law in July, according to the Washington Examiner.
Wade Pogany, the executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, told The Associated Press at the time that schools got creative with their displays.
“Some have plaques. Other have it painted on the wall, maybe in a mural setting,” he said. One school added the motto “within their freedom wall. They added that to a patriotic theme.”
CSEP_ISU: RT EdCommission: This #EdPolicy topic resurfaces as #Kansas considers requiring ‘In God We Trust’ in classrooms. Learn about state display requirements and more in this blog post. | #EdNote https://t.co/oGHOAah41V pic.twitter.com/uDkDng3cgO
— Emilie Shoop ☺ (@eshoop) February 4, 2020
According to EdNote, 17 states have passed laws concerning the display of the national motto.
Public schools in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia are required to display “In God We Trust.”
In Alabama, Arizona, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas, the motto “may” be posted in public schools. Schools in Georgia and Ohio “may” display the motto if it is donated, while Arkansas schools must display the motto if it is donated.
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