After a law in Texas mandating the display of donated items bearing the phrase “In God We Trust” went into effect, civil rights advocates voiced concern that officials would distribute “In God We Trust” posters to public schools.
Sophie Ellman-Golan of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) told the Guardian that the posters show “the more casual ways a state can impose religion on the public.” The separation of church and state is completely undermined by them. It’s hard to look at them apart from the larger Christian nationalist project, though.
Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition (SARC) members expressed “disturbed” over the possible example the posters’ dissemination would set.
The Secular Advocacy and Research Center (SARC) issued a statement expressing concern over the “chilling effect” that the “blatant intrusion of religion in what should be a secular public institution” would have on students who do not practice the dominant Christian faith.
Despite the phrase’s lack of religious specificity, “In God We Trust” has been widely criticized for being used to promote Christian nationalism.
Kristina Lee of Colorado State University wrote last year that Christians were instrumental in having the phrase placed on coins during the Civil War, and that this fact is now cited as “evidence” that the United States is a Christian nation.
It’s not the first time the government has mandated the use of the phrase, and it’s not the first time the flags have been distributed in Texas.
In 2021, the city council of Chesapeake, Virginia, decided to spend around $87,000 to have the motto “In God We Trust” displayed on all city vehicles.
According to JFREJ’s Ellman-Golan, this issue is intrinsically linked to others, including the plight of Texan women and their access to quality education.
When pressed further, she said, “We know that state governments in places like Texas are codifying white Christian nationalist patriarchy into law at an alarming rate.” “The most extreme forms of this are attempts to censor education and bans on abortion and gender-affirming care.”
Republican Texas state senator Bryan Hughes, who claims authorship of the “In God We Trust Act,” expressed delight on Twitter, writing that the motto “asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God.”
In the meantime, the Muslim civil rights organization Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed support for the initiative, saying it could provide students with an opportunity to learn about religions other than their own.
Corey Saylor, a spokesman for CAIR, told the Guardian that “the notion of trusting God is common across faiths.” Using this perspective, the posters can help students in Texas learn more about and appreciate the diversity of the state’s religious communities.
Saylor did not address the question of whether or not Muslim students in Texas feel safe practicing their religion openly. According to a 2020 CAIR report, roughly half of Muslim students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas have reported being bullied at school because of their faith.
People of non-Christian faiths have been falsely reported to police in Texas on occasion due to widespread prejudice against them.
In 2015, for example, a 14-year-old Muslim boy from a Texas suburb was arrested when a teacher suspected a homemade clock he brought to school was a bomb and called the police. A few months later, a bully in another Texas suburb reported that a 12-year-old Sikh boy had a bomb in his backpack, leading to his arrest.
As Saylor put it, “students of minority faiths’ [feeling] supported by educators to express how they understand trusting God” is crucial to the success of the “In God We Trust” initiative.
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