But the new law doesn't give school districts any money to cover the costs of this.
When they return to school in the fall, every public school student in South Dakota will be treated to an explicitly Christian message: "In God We Trust."
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed the legislation earlier this year, and it takes effect this month. The law requires all of South Dakota's 149 public schools to display the phrase in a "prominent location." Schools have discretion on what to put up — the law suggests a plaque or student artwork — but it has to be at least 12 inches by 12 inches.
The law doesn't give school districts any money to cover the costs of this. However, it does cover any costs resulting from litigation if someone sues a school district over the display and it mandates that the attorney general represent the school. That sounds generous until you realize that just means that taxpayers are going to pay for the inevitable lawsuit.
The law makes no provision for any sentiment that isn't explicitly religious, and it makes no provision for any sentiment that isn't explicitly Christian. At the end of the last school year, a group of students from a high school in the Rapid City school district designed an alternate version of the motto that "includes the names of Buddha, Yahweh and Allah — as well as terms like science and the spirits." They suggested to the school board as an alternative, noting that "In God We Trust" seems to favor Christianity only.
The school board hasn't bothered to discuss it.
The law is one of many that have been passed around the country in the last several years. It's part of a coordinated effort by a group called Project Blitz. Basically, they start with the small stuff — mottos stenciled on school walls — and move on to full-fledged theocracy.
Americans United states that Project Blitz "hope[s] to create broad exemptions to existing law so that their narrow set of evangelical Christian beliefs can be used to limit the rights of others." This includes proposing laws such as only letting heterosexual married couples adopt children and asking states to adopt resolutions stating "the public policy of this state supports and encourages marriage between one man and one woman and the desirability that intimate sexual relations only take place between such couples."
This is all very much in keeping with Gov. Noem's personal religious beliefs. Earlier this year, she asked the entire state to spend a day in "solemn mourning and pleas to heaven" over states that have legalized abortions she doesn't approve of. She's likely perfectly happy to help Project Blitz impose evangelical Christian views on the whole of the state.
Hopefully, that inevitable lawsuit comes soon.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.