South Dakota public schools are in the process of complying with a new state law that went into effect this month requiring the U.S. national motto “In God We Trust” to be posted in a prominent location where students are “most likely to see” it in each of the state’s 149 school districts. “The display may take the form of a mounted plaque, student artwork, or any other appropriate form as determined by the school principal,” the law reads. “The display shall be easily readable and may be no smaller than twelve inches wide by twelve inches high.”
Both chambers of the South Dakota state Legislature are heavily Republican, allowing state lawmakers to easily pass the bill earlier this year. In March, the state’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed the bill into law mandating that the motto to be posted for the 2019–20 school year. The language of the law doesn’t provide funds for schools to erect the new display, but it does guarantee financial and legal assistance to any school or district that faces lawsuits over the religious motto that appears to violate the separation of church and state. It is a strange message to send in the text of a law that the state will not only represent you but cover monetary damages incurred from complying with the law.
The “In God We Trust” motto was first adopted in the 1860s by an act of Congress and put on some forms of American currency. It was later made the national motto in 1956 during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.