“In God We Trust,” that insidious religious slogan still shamelessly and undeservedly masquerading as a secular national motto, is now threatening to infect my own state, South Dakota.
This video below explains the general slogal issue succinctly in light of Florida’s passage of a law in 2018 requiring the same motto be displayed in its schools.
The South Dakota House of Representatives on Feb. 27, with a 47-19 vote, passed an amended Senate Bill 55 relative to the slogan, and returned it to the state Senate for a vote. The bill, co-sponsored by 51 Republicans — zero Democratic sponsors signed on — would require that:
“Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, the national motto of the United States, ‘In God We Trust,’ shall be displayed in each public school. The display shall be located in a prominent location within each public school. The display may take the form of a mounted plaque, student artwork, or any other appropriate form as determined by the school principal. For the purposes of this section, a prominent location is a school entryway, cafeteria, or other common area where students are most likely to see the national motto display.”
Note that this bill would make it mandatory that all children in South Dakota’s publicly funded schools — Christian or otherwise, faithful or not — be daily reminded of the purported centrality and importance of an unverifiable invisible deity in their lives, in a country whose Constitution prohibits the government from expressly promoting religion in any form.
Although conservative Christians (and even some U.S. Supreme Court justices) may insist that “God” is not an inherently religious concept but a neutral and universally accepted part of reality, it, in fact, is definitively religious and not universally accepted.
Enforcing religious ideas
So what we have here is a government body comprised of mainly conservative Christians (which is constitutionally constrained from “establishing,” or purposely promoting, religion) still deigning to enforce religious idolatry on children.
It’s impossible to interpret that as morally or ethically OK in our secular republic, except if understanding that many Christian lawmakers even today actually do not view the term “God” as representing a religious entity, but instead as a vaguely nontheistic phrase, such as “source of goodness” or “creative force of the universe.”
As such, when a plaintiff sued a New Jersey school district in 2015 for what it claimed was the discriminatory display of the “In God We Trust” phrase in district schools, New Jersey Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman dismissed the case. As I explained in an earlier post, here (“In Inertia We Trust: Why God Adorns Courtroom Walls on TV”), the judge argued:
“As a matter of historical tradition, the words ‘under God’ can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words ‘In God We Trust’ from every coin in the land, than the words ‘so help me God’ from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787.”
Lies repeated get believedOf course, the reason it’s difficult to expunge the ideas Judge Bauman cites from American consciousness is not because their veracity and necessity is self-evident but because we have improperly, unconstitutionally been entertaining them for so long, at the unflagging, relentless behest of evangelical Christian organizations in the U.S.
Just as bald-faced lies exhaustively retold eventually gain credence and status with human beings — as Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin and Pol Pot well understood — constant reminders of supernatural assumptions such as “In God We Trust,” et al., over decades and even centuries have had the same effect.
But still, whither God?
And with the false assumptions of divine necessity come a fair amount of dishonestly, as in the South Dakota House. According to a news article Feb. 28 in the Dickinson (North Dakota) Press, the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Chris Johnson (R-Rapid City) claims the bill “is not intended to force religion on students, but instead promote patriotism.”
The only way that’s true is if God were necessary for patriotism, which is entirely moot. Of course, it could be argued that “God” must be part of patriotism because it is now in our national motto, but the original motto — E pluribus unum (“From Many, One) — was only replaced by the “God” one in 1957. So the current motto is not only a bastardized one, but fairly recently.
The irony is that the original Senate bill stipulated that the national motto “may” be displayed in schools, not mandated, but conservative Christian Republicans in the House decided to make display mandatory. The House evangelicals also amended the bill to require the state to pay any costs associated in defending against legal assaults against it if it becomes law.
Let’s hope the Senate, after reviewing the new House version of SB 55, mercifully kills it.