A bill requiring Tennessee schools to prominently display the national “In God We Trust” motto is headed to the governor for his signature.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, overwhelmingly passed the state House on Monday with 81 of the 99 members voting in favor of it. Before the vote, the Republican lawmaker spoke from the House floor about the prominence of the phrase.
“Our national motto is on our money. It’s on our license plates. It’s part of our national anthem,” Lynn said. “Our national motto and founding documents are the cornerstone of freedom and we should teach our children about these things.”
The bill requires schools display the motto in a prominent location where students are likely to see it, like a school entryway, cafeteria or common area. It offers more freedom on what form it takes, suggesting that it could be a mounted plaque or student artwork.
“In God We Trust” became the national motto in 1956, but it first appeared on the two-cent coin in 1864, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It was first placed on coins largely because of increased religious sentiment during the Civil War.
“In God We Trust” bills, like those calling to add the motto to license plates and require the posting of it in public buildings, periodically crop up in legislatures across the U.S. These proposed statutes tend to pit Republicans and conservative Christians against secular activists and supporters of the separation of church and state.
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Laws requiring the display of “In God We Trust” in schools are already on the books in other states.
The Tennessee legislation appears to be a part of a wave of similar “In God We Trust” bills under consideration this year by state lawmakers across the country. Like-minded legislation has popped up in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming, according to news reports.
There’s an effort in Alabama to display the national motto on public property. An Arizona lawmaker proposed posting the state motto “Ditat Deus” or its English translation “God enriches” in classrooms.
The Tennessee State Senate unanimously passed the “In God We Trust” in schools legislation earlier this month. Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, is the bill’s Senate sponsor.
If Gov. Bill Haslam signs it into law, it will take effect immediately.