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When news broke two weeks ago that Texas had a new books law requiring public schools to post “In God We Trust” signs, protesters quickly plotted to overturn the intent of the law.
In Florida, Chaz Stevens, a longtime advocate for the separation of church and state, immediately began working on a plan. He wanted his protest to follow the letter of the law, but reversed in such a way as to elicit opposition from supporters of the law, as if the nation’s motto was written in Arabic. Stevens is well aware that he relies on Islamophobia to provoke conservatives, but he also hopes teachers can use his signs to discuss religions other than the nation’s dominant religion in public schools.
“What better place for a teachable moment?” he said.
But in the wake of Stevens’ protest, a Texas lawmaker and a conservative school district are now interfering with the subversive backlash from Stevens and other protesters.
A year ago, Senate Bill 797, drafted by State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, went into effect requiring schools to post signs bearing the national motto in a “visible location.” if donated or purchased for display purposes. The law initially resulted in donations of “In God We Trust” posters to public schools from the Christian mobile phone company Patriot Mobile.
When others learned of the donated signs, activists created displays of the motto in both Arabic and rainbow letters signifying support for the LGBTQ community. News of their plans quickly hit social media and Hughes, an attorney, stepped in, sending a letter to the Texas Education Agency. In it, he argued that any given “In God We Trust” sign must be in English, even though this law does not specify what language the signs must use.
“In the United States Code and the Texas Education Code, the motto is shown in quotation marks and is presented in English. Accordingly, the legal requirement that the motto be displayed as it appears in the law, and without other “words, pictures or other information”, limits the legally mandated display of the motto to only posters or framed copies shown in English” Hughes wrote.
Proponents of the separation of church and state have said the law is an effort to inject Christianity into secular public education. Additionally, other non-Christian religious groups criticized the law as forced indoctrination.
For nearly a year, the “In God We Trust” sign law fell into public oblivion. Then, a few weeks ago, Patriot Mobile donated signs bearing the motto to all schools in the Carroll Independent School District. The school board in the affluent and largely white suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth accepted the posters from the conservative company at a meeting Aug. 16.
Other residents have tried to donate Arabic and rainbow-colored signs, and Carroll ISD declined those donations on Monday, saying Patriot Mobile had donated enough signs for the district.
Carroll ISD School Board President Cam Bryan said in a statement to the Texas Tribune that the decision to refuse the less traditional “In God We Trust” signs was based on Hughes’ letter, which zeroes in the singular. in the wording of the law by referring to a “durable poster or framed print”.
Neither the TEA nor Hughes responded to the Tribune’s request for comment.
William White, director of operations for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Houston, said the law should be changed so that schools have a choice whether or not to display the sign.
“The First Amendment was never intended to completely exclude references to God or religious practices from government officials. It’s why public meetings often begin with prayer, elected officials frequently take an oath on a sacred text, public employees wear visible signs of their faith at work, and why God is mentioned in the oath of allegiance, on every US coin and dollar, and on the walls of various public buildings and monuments,” White said in a statement to the Tribune.
But students of all faiths, and no faith, should be able to attend public school without government indoctrination or being used as “political balloons in our society’s culture wars,” White added.
White also expressed concern about the use of Arabic on the protest sign. He said using Islam as an act of protest could lead to unforeseen backlash against Muslim students in Texas.
Muslims are the fifth largest religious group in the state. Texas is home to the largest population of Muslims in the country.
Carisa Lopez, senior policy director of the Texas Freedom Network, a religious freedom advocacy group, said the law inserts unwanted government control into schools in an effort to undo the separation of church and religion. State.
“Our constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the state of Texas should impose no religious requirements on our public schools. Clearly they know this crosses the line because they have handily drafted the law to find a loophole to make it happen,” Lopez said in a statement.
Amy Price, director of development and communications for Austin’s atheist community, told the Tribune that the law reflects an effort to legislate Christianity in public education. His organization’s intent is to establish and maintain boundaries between secular institutions and faith, which the law aims to blur, Price said.
“It looks small and harmless, but it’s neither,” she said.
Disclosure: Texas Freedom Network financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
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