Civil rights advocates are ringing alarm bells about officials distributing “In God We Trust” posters in Texas schools after a state law took effect requiring public campuses to display any donated items bearing that phrase.
“These posters demonstrate the more casual ways a state can impose religion on the public,” Sophie Ellman-Golan of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) told the Guardian. “Alone, they’re a basic violation of the separation of church and state. But in the broader context, it’s hard not to see them as part of the larger Christian nationalist project.”
The Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition (SARC) said they were “disturbed” by the precedence the posters’ distribution could set.
“SARC is disturbed by the precedent displaying these posters in every school will set and the chilling effect this blatant intrusion of religion in what should be a secular public institution will have on the student body, especially those who do not practice the dominant Christian faith,” the group said in a statement.
While the phrase doesn’t explicitly mention any specific religion, many argue that “In God We Trust” has long been used as a tool to forward Christian nationalism.
Christians were instrumental in putting the phrase on coins during the civil war, Kristina Lee of Colorado State University wrote last year, and has since used the phrase as supposed evidence to prove the United States is a Christian nation.
The flags’ distribution in Texas is not the first time that a government body has imposed the phrase.
In Chesapeake, Virginia, the city council ruled in 2021 that every city vehicle was to carry “In God We Trust” motto, a move that would require a budget of about $87,000.
Ellman-Golan of JFREJ said the issue is deeply connected to 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 abortion and gender-affirming care, as well as efforts to censor education.”
Texas state senator Bryan Hughes, who is Republican and said he is the author of the “In God We Trust Act,” celebrated on Twitter, saying that the motto “asserts 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 this might allow for an opportunity for students to learn about other faiths.
“The notion of trusting God is common across faiths,” CAIR spokesperson Corey Saylor told the Guardian. “Applied through that lens, the posters can foster discussions among Texas students about their various faiths and enhance understanding.”
Saylor did not comment about how safe Texas’s Muslim students might feel in Texas about their religion. About half of Muslim students in Texas’s Dallas-Fort Worth area have reported being bullied at school over their faith, according to a 2020 CAIR report.
Sometimes in Texas, a fear of people from non-Christian backgrounds has prompted their being reported to police.
For instance, In 2015, a 14-year-old Muslim boy in a Texas suburb was arrested after he brought a clock he made to school, and a teacher fearing it was a bomb called police on 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 “In God We Trust” initiative’s success depended on “students of minority faiths’ [feeling] supported by educators to express how they understand trusting God”.