Civil rights activists are sounding the alarm over officials distributing ‘In God We Trust’ posters in Texas schools after a state law took effect requiring public campuses to display all donated items bearing this phrase.
“These posters show the most flippant ways a state can impose religion on the public,” Sophie Ellman-Golan of Jewish For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) told the Guardian. “Alone, they constitute a fundamental violation of the separation of church and state. But in a larger context, it’s hard not to see them as part of the larger Christian nationalist project.
The Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition (SARC) said it was “disturbed” by the precedent the distribution of the posters could set.
“SARC is troubled by the precedent that the display of these posters in every school will set and the chilling effect that this blatant intrusion of religion into what should be a secular public institution will have on the student body, particularly those who do not practice the mainstream Christian faith,” the group said in a statement.
Although the phrase does not explicitly mention any specific religion, many argue that “In God We Trust” has long been used as a tool to advance Christian nationalism.
Christians were instrumental in inscribing the phrase on coins during the Civil War, wrote Kristina Lee of Colorado State University last year, and has since used the phrase as evidence supposed to prove that the United States is a Christian nation.
The distribution of the flags in Texas is not the first time a government agency has imposed the sentence.
In Chesapeake, Virginia, the city council decided in 2021 that every vehicle in the city should bear the motto “In God We Trust,” a move that would require a budget of around $87,000.
JFREJ’s Ellman-Golan said the issue is deeply intertwined with other concerns, such as women’s health and education in Texas.
“We know that state governments in places like Texas are codifying white Christian nationalist patriarchy into law at an alarming rate,” she added. “The most dangerous examples of this are bans on gender-affirming abortion and healthcare, as well as efforts to censor education.”
Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes, who is a Republican and said he authored the “In God We Trust Act”, famous on Twitter, saying the motto “affirms our collective trust in a sovereign God.”
Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights organization, welcomed the initiative and said it could allow students to learn more about other religions.
“The notion of trusting God is common to all religions,” CAIR spokesperson Corey Saylor told the Guardian. “Applied through this lens, the posters can foster discussions among Texas students about their different religions and enhance understanding.”
Saylor did not comment on how safe Texas Muslim students might feel in Texas about their religion. About half of Muslim students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas said they had been bullied at school because of their faith, according to a 2020 CAIR report.
Sometimes in Texas, fear of people from non-Christian backgrounds prompted their reporting to the police.
For example, in 2015, a 14-year-old Muslim boy in a Texas suburb was arrested after bringing a clock he had made to school, and a teacher fearing it was a bomb called the police against him. A few months later, a 12-year-old Sikh boy in another Texas suburb was arrested after a bully told his teacher he was carrying a bomb in his backpack.
Saylor said the success of the “In God We Trust” initiative depends on “students of minority faiths.” [feeling] supported by educators to express how they understand trust in God”.