Oklahoma, Florida lawmakers say 'In God We Trust' sign belongs in every public school

An Oklahoma state legislator is pushing legislation that would place the words "In God We Trust" in every public classroom in the state. Similar legislation is making its way through Florida's legislature.
An Oklahoma state legislator is pushing legislation that would place the words "In God We Trust" in every public classroom in the state. Similar legislation is making its way through Florida's legislature. Bigstock

Oklahoma state senator Wayne Shaw, a pastor and former missionary, wants four little words to be proudly displayed in every public school classroom in his state.

In God We Trust.

"It's the national motto. It's on our coins. Why not?" Shaw, an adjunct professor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, told KFOR in Oklahoma City.

The Republican senator has introduced a bill that would require a poster or framed image of the phrase to be displayed in classrooms and libraries, along with the U.S. and Oklahoma flags.

Similar legislation is making its way through Florida's legislature, where the bill passed 97 to 10 last week in the House the day after the legislature voted against an assault weapons ban.

It would require the motto — which is Florida's official state motto, as well — to be displayed in a conspicuous place in all schools and every building used by a school district board. An identical bill has been introduced in the Florida Senate, according to CNN. If approved, the legislation would take effect July 1.

"It is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed," Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat and the bill's sponsor in the House, said on the House floor Wednesday. "But the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart."

The Oklahoma proposal passed the Senate Committee with a 6 to 4 vote last week. The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider it next. If the legislature passes, it would go into effect on Nov. 1.

Both proposals have attracted mixed reviews from legislators and residents. Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, is concerned that having the motto displayed in classrooms would put teachers in a tough position if a student asked for more information about God, the Tulsa World reported.

She said that's a conversation students should have with their parents and worries that teachers talking about it could violate law.

On the other hand, "why shouldn't we have it in the classroom?" self-described "devout Christian" Patricia Williams told KFOR in Oklahoma City. "Children should know. There's so much destruction and corruption going on, something good needs to be said in the school system."

But Oklahoma resident Brynnon Estes told KTUL the effort is a distraction from real issues such as finding money for underfunded teachers and classrooms. Besides, she said, "it's on every single one of our dollar bills and it doesn't do its job there."

Shaw said the schools won't pay for the posters or framed images in Oklahoma schools. The bill requires they either be donated or paid for with private funds.

Daniels in Florida referenced the Parkland shootings when she made her pitch for displaying the motto. God isn't "Republican and he's not a Democrat," she said. "He's not black and he's not white. He is the light. And our schools need light in them like never before."

Republican representative John Paul Jordan, who co-authored the Oklahoma bill, said it's not about religion but about the nation's motto.

"The origins of the phrase 'In God We Trust' is on display in many other parts of our society because our forefathers understood the importance of trusting God, especially during difficult times," he told KTUL.

According to the U.S. Treasury website, the motto was placed on U.S. coins largely because of increased religious sentiment in the country during the Civil War.

"Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins," the website says.

The first appeal appears to have come in a letter Chase received from a Pennsylvania pastor, who wrote, in part: "One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins."

The preacher expressed a concern about "the ignominy of heathenism" and suggested that God's name on coins "would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters."

In a letter dated Nov. 20, 1861, Chase instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto to place on coins. The motto first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864 and has been used on the nation's paper currency since 1957.

Republican state senator David Holt of Oklahoma City doesn't support the effort there. He, like some of his constituents, said the legislature should be focused on finding money to pay teachers instead of telling them what to hang on the walls.

"We passed two bills directing teachers how to decorate their classrooms," Holt told KFOR. "It's embarrassing.

"This is a waste of legislative resources, legislative time. It's a bill that needs to go away so we can focus on issues that really matter."

And, he's not even sure if placing the motto in public school classrooms would pass the necessary constitutional tests.

A Wisconsin school district is going through a similar debate after an atheist father objected to what he called "Christian symbolism" in his son's fourth-grade classroom in Kenosha.

The father, Rob Moore, said he complained to no avail for months about how uncomfortable the situation was for his family, so he enlisted lawyers to help get his message across to school administrators.

Moore told WTMJ in Milwaukee last week the teacher has removed the items from the room, including "The Sign of the Cross" and a picture frame with the American flag that read "God Bless America."

"She's a loving teacher and cares about the kids," Moore, the president of a Freedom from Religion Foundation chapter, told the TV station. "She's misguided."

Other parents said they didn't have a problem with the religious-themed items being in the classroom. "I think it should be in every classroom," said one.

Moore said he didn't necessarily find the items offensive as much as illegal given separation of church and state laws. The school district issued a statement saying it "is aware of the allegations and is working with our legal team to investigate the claims."