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Bill To Put 'In God We Trust' In Kentucky Schools Moves Forward

U.S. Capitol
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A bill to require all public schools in Kentucky to display the national motto "In God We Trust" has passed its first hurdle in the legislature. The House Education Committee approved the bill this week in a split vote.

The bill sponsored by Republican Representative Brandon Reed, a Christian minister, suggests the display could be a plaque or student artwork placed in a cafeteria, entryway or other prominent place. Democratic Representative Mary Lou Marzian has proposed an amendment to the bill to permit, but not require, schools to display the motto. The bill and the amendment will now go to the House floor.

High school student Isaiah Pruitt of LaRue County testified before the House Education committee in favor of the bill.

"As a student I would love to walk in every day and see 'In God We Trust,' because it's not a religious factor, it’s a national factor," said Pruitt, noting that the motto is also on display behind lawmakers at the Kentucky General Assembly.

Several Democrats on the Education Committee voted against the measure, with concerns that it would make some students feel less welcome. Parent Whitney Boswell told WFPL she is against the bill for that reason. Boswell considers herself non-religious; her son is a first-grader at Coleridge-Taylor Montessori School, a public school in Louisville.

"I feel like that's taking a little bit away from me, my ability to raise my child as non-religious, if it's in the school," Boswell said.

Ed Hensley, another Louisville parent who identifies as atheist, told WFPL he has already spoken with Jefferson County School officials to ask them to find an alternative way to display the motto if the bill becomes law. Hensley suggested the district could borrow a method promoted by an atheist group in Arkansas, where a similar law was passed. The American Atheists sent hundreds of copies of a poster that briefly explains the origin of the national motto to one school district. The school district did not display the poster.

History Of The National Motto

The American founding fathers originally used the unofficial national motto e pluribus unum, Latin for "out of many, one." The motto was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams in 1776 as part of the design for the Great Seal of the United States.

The phrase "In God We Trust" was first printed on U.S. coins during the Civil War. It became the national motto under federal legislation in 1956, bolstered by anti-Communist sentiment among legislators who sought to distinguish the United States from atheist regimes in the Soviet Union and China.

Seven states passed laws in 2018 that would allow or require schools to post "In God We Trust" on their walls. State chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union publicly opposed those laws, arguing they contradict the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits any law that establishes a religion. Supporters say the laws would likely stand up to court challenges because of the slogan's status as the national motto.

The ACLU's main office in Washington D.C. said "as far as they know," none of their chapters have launched legal challenges to the recent laws to place the national motto in schools. A federal appeals court in Chicago last year upheld its printing on U.S. currency.

This story first appeared on WFPL. For more stories like this, . 

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Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.