More information about Florida HB 839

HB 839 is a one-page bill that would “require, in all of the schools of the district and in each building used by the district school board, the display of the state motto, ‘In God We Trust’ in a conspicuous place.”

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). Florida’s HB 839 is unquestionably intended as a religious message, highlighting just how wrong courts have been on this issue.

When HB 839 was considered by a House subcommittee, its supporters made clear that the phrase “In God We Trust” is meant to promote religious belief in a deity, not mere patriotism. Lawmakers bemoaned that “we’re taking God out of everything . . . just go into your community right now and see how many young people are even attending church anymore. Many of them don’t even value or respect life anymore.”

The bill’s sponsor, Pastor Daniels, also has unabashedly declared her theocratic intentions, which has led to complaints from FFRF in the past. Daniels recently posted a video to social media in which she argued that “we have to be Kingdom-minded no matter what realm we operate in. We have to be Kingdom-minded in the church . . . and even in every position that I hold, whether I’m working in the professional arena, whether I’m working in the legislative arena, you have to be Kingdom-minded. I was getting ready to present this legislation to put prayer back into schools all over the state of Florida.”

This isn’t Daniels’ first time trying to push religion into public schools. In support of a bill last year that required schools to open “forums” at school events for religious speech, Daniels penned a long-winded comment on her Facebook page that tried to justify the law but instead fully admitted its religious purpose. She claimed that “young children were not allowed to pray over their meals” in public schools, a common and thoroughly debunked persecution myth. She also said she was horrified that a coach was not allowed to pray with his players, something that federal courts have held the U.S. Constitution requires and that this law does nothing to change.

In short, there is no doubt that HB 839 is intended to promote a religious message. The bill’s sponsor specifically hopes to undo decades of Supreme Court cases protecting public school students’ right to a secular government. 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 Annie Laurie 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