South Dakota Public Schools Display ‘In God We Trust’ On The Walls, Causing Controversy

A new state law that took effect last month requires the signs to be displayed where students can easily see them.

The 'In God We Trust' sign on a washington office building
Wikimedia Commons (GPL Cropped and resized)

A new state law that took effect last month requires the signs to be displayed where students can easily see them.

Public schools across South Dakota have displayed “In God We Trust” on the walls, following a new law, passed by the state legislature earlier this year, that requires the phrase displayed where students are most likely to see it.

As NPR News reports, Governor Kristi Noem signed the requirement into law in March, and it went into effect this month. The law requires the sign to be at least 12-by-12 inches in size and easily legible. It can be expressed through painted signage, through mounted plaques, through student artwork approved by the principal — according to the law, it doesn’t really matter how, as long as it’s there.

Lawmakers said they hoped the law would inspire patriotism.

In Rapid City, school officials decided to paint the motto with stencils, a relatively quick and cost-effective way to get it done, says Rapid City Area Schools community relations manager Katy Urban.

“As soon as we heard that it was going to be a state law…we started looking at different options and we chose to do stenciling as it is the most uniform and most affordable option,” she said.

Not all students in Rapid City schools are on board with the idea. As the city’s KOTA-TV reported in May, a group of students, calling themselves W.I.S.E. (Working to Initiate Social Equality), said that the wording of the sign favors Christianity over other religions. And not all students at all South Dakota public schools are Christians, which is why the group suggested replacing the word “God” with “Buddha” or “Yahweh” or “Allah” or “Ourselves.”

Student Abigail Ryan said that such religious inclusivity is part of what makes America what it is.

“I think that’s a really foundational element of American society is that we are a cultural melting pot and it is really important that we make all people who come to America to feel welcome and to be more in accordance with the first amendment since we all have the freedom of religion,” she says.

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Americans United For The Separation Of Church And State agrees with her. In a blog post, the organization wrote that such bills are part of a larger attempt to “impose Christian beliefs on public schoolchildren.”

Meanwhile, efforts to put the “In God We Trust” phrase in public schools, as well as other public property, aren’t limited to South Dakota. In Indiana, for example, a bill was put before the legislature to do the very same thing South Dakota is doing — putting the phrase on the walls of public schools, as the Evansville Courier & Press reported in January.