The United States is supposed to have a separation between church and state, but you wouldn’t know it by seeing “In God We Trust” on legal tender, police cars, courtrooms, and more. Now, politicians in Florida are trying to force all schools in the state to prominently display the national motto, which was adopted in 1956 in response to the Red Scare.
Courts have generally held that government displays of “In God We Trust” are not violations of church/state separation because it’s “tradition” and because “deism” and theism aren’t technically religions in themselves. It is clear, however, that this bill is being pushed as an attempt to promote Christianity and belief in a specific God. And for once, a bill that violates our the spirit of our nation’s secular principles (even if not a technical violation of the law) isn’t coming from a Republican; it was introduced by a Democrat and it’s being supported on both sides of the aisle.
Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels said her bill will be a lesson to children about the national and state motto that’s printed on currency and included in the state flag.
The bill received unanimous approval Tuesday from the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Democrats and Republicans praised the idea.
Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo said students should know about the state’s history, and as part of that history, “we do trust in God.”
History is one thing, but forcing public schools to literally endorse the Christian notion of God is completely different. We know when they say “God,” they aren’t referring to Allah, or Zeus, or any other deity. They are talking about the Judeo-Christian God, who came to Earth in the form of Jesus (or so the myth goes).
If the politicians wanted schools to teach real history, perhaps kids should recite this part of the Treaty of Tripoli: “… the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” That was just one small part of the treaty, which was signed by President John Adams and unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1797, but it’s important nonetheless.
Despite the fact that the founders of our country were escaping a religious theocracy that mandated adherence to a particular religion, and specifically sought to create a country without a national religion, several politicians in Florida are changing the narrative to make this about history and education instead of what it really is: proselytization from the government.
Democratic Rep. Larry Lee said the nation was “built on God” and the bill is a great idea at a time when many young people aren’t going to church.
Lee added, “We’re taking God out of everything.”
If young people aren’t going to church, that’s their right. And to try to force them to do so by posting an “In God We Trust” banner at public schools isn’t just an insult to our founders and our secular Constitution; it’s also not effective. The percentage of “Nones” continues to rise and these posters are going to cause the numbers to fall.
Saying that the posters shouldn’t be up isn’t saying we should take God out of “everything.” God can stay in churches, and at home, and anywhere else where believers happen to be, because prayer can take place anywhere. But endorsing religion, and a specific God, at the government level is not in line with our secular history – even if similar bills have passed elsewhere. The fact that it is technically not illegal doesn’t make it right.
While the politicians (Republicans and Democrats) in Florida have overwhelmingly supported the bill, it has been met with some criticism.
Maggie Garrett, legislative director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, meanwhile cautioned that lawmakers best think twice about this proposal. For while they profess that it’s about the state motto, their comments say otherwise.
“They know what they’re doing,” Garrett said. “They’re saying it’s important, and we need to trust in God and we need to bring God back. … Those are really religious concepts and ideas, and it’s a religious purpose.”
And that, she said, runs counter to court rulings prohibiting schools from promoting religion.
“Not all kids in Florida public schools believe in God,” Garrett noted, and they shouldn’t feel pressured while in school.”
She’s right. This isn’t just about our nation’s motto, which a Florida parent pointed out is already displayed on the state flag. This is, as the politicians admit, about bringing God “back” into schools — whatever that means. That’s why it’s wrong.
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