Tennessee Could Soon Require Public Schools to Display ‘In God We Trust’

Soon, all public schools in Tennessee may be legally required to prominently display the motto “In God We Trust.” After passing the state Senate without opposition and the House (81-8), this new bill is headed to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

Some civil rights advocates worry that this law would breach the separation of church and state, as protected in the First Amendment.

Tennessee is not the first state to pursue legislation of this sort. Arkansas recently passed a similar bill with virtually unanimous support, and in Florida, a near identical bill could soon become law. Meanwhile, lawmakers in both South Carolina and Oklahoma hope that their states will consider voting on similar bills in the near future.

Republican Rep. Susan Lynn, the sponsor of Tennessee’s version of the school “In God We Trust” bill, explains that nonreligious and “people of other faiths” shouldn’t be offended by the new law. After all, Lynn points out, the phrase is the national motto.

“In God We Trust” Origins

According to the U.S. Treasury, “In God We Trust” first appeared in the United States on both one-cent and two-cent coins, beginning in 1864. Historians attribute this inclusion to a strengthened religious sentiment spurred by the Civil War. By 1883, however, the phrase had disappeared from most coins — but this changed in 1938. Going forward, all coins in the U.S. would bear the motto.

It wasn’t until 1956, though, that Congress successfully passed a bill making “In God We Trust” the official motto of the United States. Given that the Cold War — a struggle the U.S. and the West viewed as not only opposing Soviet communism, but also godlessness – was well underway by this point, the general idea behind the bill was to reaffirm the country’s proud, god-fearing status.

Because of the 1956 bill, these new state laws — even in the eventuality of legal challenges — will almost certainly be protected by federal law.

Regardless of the reasons lawmakers had for making “In God We Trust” the official motto of the U.S., it seems abundantly obvious that the phrase is outdated.

Politicians from the religious right are often swift to assert that the United States was founded as a Judeo-Christian country. While that’s highly debatable, today the United States is not remotely close to being wholly Christian or even monotheistic.

According to Pew, nearly 23 percent of Americans today identify as “religious nones.” This category includes not just atheists and agnostics, but also those lacking any religious affiliation. Another roughly 4 percent are part of a non-Abrahamic faith, many of which are polytheistic — like Hinduism, for example.

And this reality means that more than one in four Americans today are deliberately excluded from representation by the national motto. If there is to be a discussion about faith and the founding of the United States, then it must be acknowledged that a cornerstone of American governance has long been the strict, codified prohibition of the state favoring one religion over any other.

In theory, the most straightforward course forward here would entail Congress passing legislation to repeal the 1956 bill — but that’s little more than a pipe dream. No, opposition will necessarily have to start on a state level — if not through governors’ refusal to sign these bills, then through civil rights lawsuits which, ideally, may even work their way up to a federal court.

Gov. Haslam has not definitively said whether or not he will sign Tennessee’s “In God We Trust” bill, explaining that although he will give it consideration, he generally sees the measure as an empty gesture.

Take Action!

If you think Tennessee’s new law crosses the line and willfully violates the First Amendment, join Care2 members in asking Gov. Haslam to decline to sign this bill! You can make your voice heard by adding your name to this Care2 petition, as well as sharing it on social media!

Concerned about an issue? Want to raise awareness about an injustice? Join your fellow Care2 users by learning how to make your own petition and make your voice heard today!


Photo Credit: Jeff Weese/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W10 months ago

thanks for sharing

Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

religion doesn't belong in schools.

Philip W
Philip Wabout a year ago

Marty P, the problem is the majority of those who embrace "In god we trust" also embrace and trust Trump.

"Exit polls show white evangelical voters voted in high numbers for Donald Trump, 80-16 percent, according to exit poll results. That's the most they have voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004, when they overwhelmingly chose President George W. Bush by a margin of 78-21 percent."


Marty P
Marty Pabout a year ago

"In God We Trust"....Certainly Sounds Better Than..." In Trump We Trust"!

Karen Swenson
Karen Swensonabout a year ago

TRUMP--Build that separation between church and State, WALL!

Tracey A
Tracey Aabout a year ago

Anne Moran -- How can something that does not exist be "The Man"?????

Danuta W
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Winn A
Winn Adamsabout a year ago

Keep religion out of public schools throughout America.

Winn A
Winn Adamsabout a year ago

Petition Signed

Amanda M
Amanda Mabout a year ago

Petition signed with a vengeance! Public schools are SECULAR institutions, and attended by students of many different religious paths. To impose such a religiously divisive motto is to say to non-Christian students that they don't belong or they need to convert. As a Wiccan, I call BS on such an idea and wish that the government would bring back our original and far more appropriate motto "E. Pluribus Unum," which means "Out of Many, One." This country was created by people of many cultures, many races, many ethnicities, many backgrounds, and many RELIGIONS. Therefore, our motto and Pledge need to reflect that and not for all intents and purposes demand belief in a monotheistic deity.