Louisianians already see the motto “In God We Trust” on the nation’s currency — and occasionally on the license plates of out-of-state vehicles passing by. Those words would also appear in Louisiana’s public schools, under legislation advanced Monday by a state Senate panel.
Without objection, the Senate Finance Committee passed Senate Bill 224 by Sen. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge). The measure would dictate more than 1,300 Louisiana public schools to display the words on their grounds by the 2019-20 school year.
“This country was definitely built on a Christian foundation,” Barrow said. “That’s one of the things that I think our forefathers never wanted us to lose sight of.”
The bill initially required the phrase, which became the national motto of the United States in 1956, to appear on a poster or plaque on school grounds. Amid concerns over the cost for school districts, Barrow changed the minimum requirement to a paper sign.
“It doesn’t take much,” she said. “Some schools may already be doing it.”
Social studies teachers would also incorporate “In God We Trust” into elementary school curricula. Current state law requires that students learn about the American flag and “patriotic customs” by fifth grade. Barrow’s proposal would add the motto to those lesson plans.
“We just need to ensure that all students have the opportunity to be exposed to that,” she said.
Barrow touted her bill as an antidote to what she called “moral decay,” citing the influx of violent crime in East Baton Rouge Parish, which saw a record 87 homicides in 2017.
“Maybe young people in the classroom can realize there’s a higher power than themselves, and they will begin to look to that,” she said.
Opponents of the bill argue it would violate the separation of church and state, as provided by the First Amendment.
“This is not about trying to force God upon anyone,” Barrow said. “It’s a part of our history.”
Similar bills have appeared before legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming. A related measure in Tennessee is awaiting the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam.
Barrow’s legislation now heads to the full state Senate for debate. It would then need to clear the state House before becoming law.