“In God We Trust” Required on Signs in Louisiana Classrooms
A simple display of patriotism or a Christian nationalist dogwhistle?
A Louisiana law (HB 8) went into effect on August 3, 2023. This law requires the motto “In God we Trust” to be displayed on a sign that is at least 11 by 14 inches in size in Louisiana’s public preschool, elementary school, and secondary school classrooms. Although “In God we Trust” is the nation’s motto, its display raises questions about the role of Christianity in American public schools and in American life as a whole.
The pelican state has required that schools display the national motto “In God We Trust” somewhere in the school since 1956. This recent piece of legislation now requires that individual classrooms themselves display the national motto. Although some people consider this a simple display of patriotism, others raised concerns about Christian nationalism and protecting religious liberty.
While some people may argue that displaying the motto is on par with saying the Pledge of Allegiance, they fail to remember that the Pledge stirred up similar controversies. In 1954, when “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, many people debated its constitutionality. There have even been later efforts, such as those in 2019, to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge.
Christianity played — and continues to play — an integral part in American history. Denying that would be a disservice to the education of this nation’s pupils. Like standing and reciting Pledge of Allegiance, displaying “In God We Trust” enforces some level of Christian normativity by implying that all Americans have some sort of relationship with the Christian God. However, the display of the national motto raises First Amendment-related concerns that the Pledge does not.
For one thing, while teachers are required to direct students’ attention towards the Pledge, students are explicitly protected under the First Amendment if they refuse to stand for or recite the Pledge. There is no such protection from a sign that is required to be displayed since concealing or removing it would violate the law. Depending on classroom arrangement and rules implemented by educators, students may not be able to look away from the sign at all either.
Displays of patriotism are nothing new in American schools, but certain displays, such as those that mention God, remain rather contentious to this day. Sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, Louisiana’s HB 8 isn’t the first example of blurring the lines between patriotism and imposing beliefs on American schoolchildren. Then again, one may have to ask if our cultural obligation to display national pride is self-contradictory. After all, the right to feel apathetic towards or even hate this country is one of our core rights.