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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious laws & church-state separation

2018: Compulsory "In God We Trust"
school posters in Tennessee schools:

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Tennessee law requires an "In god we Trust" display in each school:

Senator Paul Bailey (R) sponsored Senate Bill 2661 called the "National Motto in the Classroom Act." It is a substitute for House Bill 2368 which had been earlier introduced by State Representative Susan Lynn (R). 1

It requires every local education agency in the state to display the national motto "In God We Trust" in a prominent place in each school.

Susan Lynn said that if a school does not post the motto, there won't be any penalty. 2

The bill was passed unanimously in the Senate. It was also passed in the House by a margin of 81 to 11 on 2018-MAR-19. 4 It was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam (R) on 2018-APR-02. The displays are to be in place at the start of the school year on 2018-SEP-08 and remain permanently visible.

Similar laws have been proposed in several other states, including Alabama and Arizona. Similar laws have been passed in Florida and Arkansas. 4

The Tennessee law states that the display:

"... may take the form of, but is not limited to, a mounted plaque or student artwork.”

Prominent places include a "... school entry way, cafeteria, or common area where students are likely to see the national motto.”

The original bill sponsor, Susan Lynn, noted that:

"Our national motto is on our money. It’s on our license plates. It’s part of our national anthem. Our national motto and founding documents are the cornerstone of freedom and we should teach our children about these things." 2

WATE-TV in Knoxville, TN asked their viewers for comments. Two were:

  • Pebby Distefano said:

    "I believe in God. My daughter believes in God. However, there are also people who do not believe in God that attend the same school that my daughter does and I would not want their religions imposed on my beliefs, as well as I know my beliefs don't need to be imposed on them."

  • Ruby Daniels wrote, simply:

    "Put God back in schools." 4

Webmaster's comment:

Actually, God has never left the public schools. Although morning prayers were discontinued, students can still carry Bibles in school busses and in the school; they can pray by the flagpole, before meals, etc. They can form Bible clubs. Schools can teach comparative religion classes, etc.

Other comments:

  • K. Dawn Rutledge, the public information officer for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said that:

    "All MNPS schools will be provided with information about this new legal requirement and we will be working to have this information posted in as many of our schools as possible in the new 2018-2019 school year. ... entry ways, cafeterias or other common areas" would be the most likely locations for the motto to be displayed. 4

    During a follow-up phone call, Rutledge said each school in the district will be provided an "In God We Trust" template that can be used "for those who need something to put up quickly. Then the school can decide if they want to get the students involved in making one to the extent that is allowable. We have a diverse student body with various beliefs, so it most certainly will not be mandatory"for students to get involved in creating the displays.

  • Mike Durham of Knoxville, TN said: "I think it excludes people that don't believe in the Christian God. ... I think if you put one religious statement up, you should have to put up a religious statement for everyone that goes to that school, or none at all. ... I don't really want the school system pushing them one way or another. I think it's up to the parent which I think most religious people would agree with."

  • Webmaster's note:

Actually, the phrase to be displayed refers to "God" without specifying whether it is the God of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Wiccans, etc. So, it is mainly Agnostics, Atheists, and perhaps Buddhists who are excluded. 2 Also, to put up "God" posters that cover every belief system in the school would result in many posters being contradictory. Jews, and Muslims believe strictly in a single deity; Wiccans, other Neopagans and Zoroastrians believe in a dual divinity. Agnostics see no convincing evidence either for or against the existence of God. Atheists, by definition, simply lack a belief in the existence of a God.

My main concern is for the Agnostics and Atheists in the schools. With the state and the school system promoting God's existence, there will probably be an increase in the amount of bullying of non-theists. There is already too much bullying in the school without adding one more group of victims. What I would like to see in each school is a large display of versions of the Golden rule, a.k.a. the Ethic of Reciprocity: that we are to treat others as we would wish others to treat us. There could be sayings from all the major religions, from secular, humanist, atheist, and agnostic groups as well, so that all religious beliefs in the school could be accommodated. This should have the effect of reducing bullying.


References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "SENATE BILL 2661," LegiScan, at: https://legiscan.com
  2. Brandon Bates, "Tennessee public schools now required by law to display 'In God We Trust' motto," KING-TV, Seattle, WA, 2018-AUG-08, at: https://www.king5.com/
  3. Laura Halm, " 'In God We Trust' to be displayed at Tennessee public schools," WCMH-TV, Columbus OH, at: https://www.nbc4i.com/
  4. Mariah Timms, "How Rutherford County, Murfreesboro schools are fulfilling the new 'In God We Trust' motto rule," Murfreesboro Daily News Journal, 2018-AUG-07, at: https://www.dnj.com/

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Copyright © 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original publishing date: 2018-AUG-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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