More information about Arizona SB 1289

SB 1289 would add the state motto, “DITAT DEUS” (“God Enriches”), to AZ § 15-717, a statute that allows every public school in Arizona to display select phrases and “excerpts” from select historical documents. These phrases and documents are specifically chosen to encourage schools to promote religion.

In fact, in 2005 the Supreme Court struck down a display that included the Ten Commandments along with many of the items mentioned in this statute: the “endowed by their creator” passage from the Declaration of Independence; the Preamble to the state Constitution; “In God We Trust”; a congressional record excerpt proclaiming the Year of the Bible; a presidential proclamation designating a National Day of Prayer and Humiliation; an excerpt from a presidential writing stating that “[t]he Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man”; a presidential proclamation marking 1983 the Year of the Bible; and the Mayflower Compact.

The Supreme Court struck down the displays in part because, despite the historical nature of the displays, the counties had “a predominantly religious purpose behind the . . . display.” SB 1289 would add one more religious phrase to this list, encouraging public school teachers to promote religion, and Christianity in particular, to their students.

FFRF has brought legal challenges to the phrase “In God We Trust,” both as the national motto and on currency, but the phrase has survived due to a legal fantasy that it is merely patriotic and has no religious significance (although the U.S. Supreme Court has never considered this question). Arizona’s SB 1289 is unquestionably intended as a religious message, highlighting just how wrong courts have been on this issue. Attempted justifications about the bill’s patriotic goals are merely a smokescreen for its true religious purpose.

This bill is part of a national fundamentalist campaign to post “In God We Trust” in every public school classroom. Congress adopted the “In God We Trust” slogan in 1956 at the behest of the Knights of Columbus, which undertook a national lobbying campaign during the height of 1950s zealotry. The original U.S. motto, chosen by a distinguished committee of Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, is the Latin E Pluribus Unum (From Many, [Come] One). A direct challenge of the religious motto has never been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, assisted by Colorado attorney Robert R. Tiernan, filed a federal lawsuit in 1994 challenging both the law adopting the religious slogan (1956), and the law requiring it to appear on all U.S. currency (1955). The Foundation lawsuit was dismissed by a 10th Circuit federal judge on the grounds that “In God We Trust” is not a religious phrase (1994). The Foundation appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which did not take the case in 1996.

As Foundation Co-President Anne Gaylor says, the religious motto isn’t even accurate: “To be accurate it would have to read ‘In God Some of us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly?”

Freedom From Religion Foundation