Tennessee House approves bill requiring display of 'In God We Trust' motto in public schools

A plaque with the motto "In God We Trust" is featured in this image.Wikimedia Commons/Architect of the Capitol

The Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a bill that would require public schools to prominently display the national "In God We Trust" motto in public schools.

The bill, known as the National Motto in the Classroom Act, was approved by the state House on March 19 by a 81-8 margin and was sent to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday.

Under the legislation, every public school in Tennessee beginning with the 2018-19 academic year will be required to place the national motto in an "entry way, cafeteria, or common area where students are likely to see the ... display." The bill suggests that the motto should be posted either on a "mounted plaque or student artwork."

"Our national motto is on our money. It's on our license plates. It's part of our national anthem," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Susan Lynn, as reported by The Tennessean. "Our national motto and founding documents are the cornerstone of freedom and we should teach our children about these things," she added.

"In God We Trust" was only declared as the national motto in 1956, but the phrase initially appeared on the two-cent coin in 1864, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The placement of the motto on the coins was mostly attributed to the increased religious sentiment during the Civil War.

A number of bills requiring the display of the motto or other similar phrases in public buildings have been considered in state legislatures across the country in the past few years.

In February, a bill that would allow teachers to post the words "God enriches" in classrooms in Arizona was approved by the Senate.

The measure was introduced by Republican Sen. Gail Griffin, who contended that allowing schools to post an English version of the state motto, "Ditat Deus," would be a "good history lesson for students to learn where this came from."

Last year, the state of Arkansas passed and enacted a new law that requires public school classrooms and libraries to put up "In God We Trust" posters.

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting last month, the Florida House approved a measure that would require all public schools to display the motto "In God We Trust."

Measures that require the placement of the motto have drawn the ire of some secularist groups who call for a strict adherence to separation of church and state.

After the passing of the Arkansas bill, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation contended that the purpose of the legislation was to "use the machinery of the state to promote Christianity."