BATON ROUGE — A bill unanimously advanced through the Senate Education Committee Thursday that would require each public school in Louisiana to display the national motto “In God We Trust.”
The bill, introduced by Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, would require each school district to display the national motto in each school by the 2019-20 school year.
Barrow said she was motivated to propose the legislation after Gov. John Bel Edwards’ prayer breakfast last week.
“We have an obligation to ensure students have that introduction because we cannot always assume that it’s necessarily happening at home,” she said.
Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, supports the bill and told the committee that a number of schools already display the motto. In Tangipahoa Parish, Mizell said, there is a school board member who made it her business to install “In God We Trust” throughout parish schools.
The Tennessee legislature recently passed a similar bill that is heading to the governor’s desk for signature. Similar legislation also has popped up in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming.
“In God We Trust” became the national motto in 1956.
Proponents across the nation argue that the motto is on U.S. money and on license plates. They argue that it is a cornerstone of freedom and should be taught in schools.
Opponents raise potential constitutional issues in today’s diverse public schools.
In 1962, in Engel v. Vitale, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1962 New York statute that allowed public schools to hold short, non-denominational prayer in the morning before school.
The Court decided that the prayer amounted to an “official stamp of approval” of one particular set of religious beliefs in violation of the Establishment Clause, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
In 2004, the Supreme Court did give a nod of approval to the phrase “under God” being recited in the Pledge of Allegiance in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow.
Justice Sandra O'Connor even specifically mentioned the national motto in her concurring opinion. O’Connor approved these references to God because “their history, character, and context prevent them from being constitutional violations at all.”
Barrow’s bill now heads to the Senate floor for debate.
A related bill also cleared the Senate Education Committee Thursday.
Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, proposed that any school employee may participate in a student-initiated prayer gathering at any time of day as long as it does not interfere with his or her work duties.
Current law only allows employees to attend these gatherings held at beginning or end of the work day.