UPDATE: A new bill on the Governor's desk would require public schools in Tennessee to prominently display the motto "In God We Trust."

The new law states the motto, which is considered the national motto of the United States, would have to be displayed in a "prominent location" such as an entry way, or cafeteria, in all schools.

Director of Rhea County schools Jerry Levengood said he supports the bill, and sees it as another history lesson for students.

"What was going on in the country and what did the leaders believe that was a good motto for,” explained Levengood, “It certainly gives an opportunity for us to dig into the history of our country more."

Not everyone agreed. Representatives with the Freedom From Religion Foundation are calling for the bill to be vetoed, saying it’s inappropriate. They sent this statement to Channel 3:

“The bill seeking to prominently place ‘In God We Trust’ in all public schools in Tennessee should be vetoed. It’s inappropriate to promote a religious belief upon a captive audience of public school students, including those who are extremely young and impressionable.

‘In God We Trust’ is a johnny-come-lately motto, unwisely adopted by Congress during the height of the Cold War, supplanting the original motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ [From one, come many], chosen by a distinguished committee of Franklin, Adams and Jefferson. That motto celebrates strength and unity through diversity. ‘In God We Trust’ would be appropriate in a theocracy, but is not an appropriate motto in a nation founded on a godless constitution.

And to be accurate it would need to read, ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that make a silly motto? Congress was wrong to adopt a motto that by definition excludes all nonbelieving citizens, now numbering almost a quarter of the adult population.

If this bill is signed into law, FFRF will carefully monitor the divisiveness it creates and will ask students and parents to contact us over concerns.”

We asked Chattanooga lawyer Jerry Summers how the bill is legal and not an issue of separation of church and state. He said it comes down to how the motto is used, whether it's just displayed, used to teach history, or used to enforce a religion.

"If you've got somebody who is really using this to establish some religious purpose it may have constitutional problems,” explained Summers, "The mere presence of a plaque like this, historically, has not been held to be constitutionally infirm."

It's also about location. Summers said putting the motto in each classroom, which is not what the law calls for, could infringe on separation of church and state.

He said the debate over the national motto is not new. There was an argument when lawmakers had it put on money and when state’s put the motto on license plates.  

"Anytime you got religion in a public place you've got a controversy," urged Summers.

Levengood agrees and expects backlash, but stands by the bill.

"It's part of our history. It's part of our culture. It's on our coins. It's the motto of the nation,” urged Levengood, “So, I think it's far more than being just a religious issue."    


PREVIOUS STORY: The Freedom From Religion Foundation is responding to the passage of a bill in Tennessee that requires public schools to display the motto "In God We Trust."

Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor issued the following statement to Channel 3:

"The bill seeking to prominently place ‘In God We Trust’ in all public schools in Tennessee should be vetoed. It’s inappropriate to promote a religious belief upon a captive audience of public school students, including those who are extremely young and impressionable.

"‘In God We Trust’ is a johnny-come-lately motto, unwisely adopted by Congress during the height of the Cold War, supplanting the original motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ [From one, come many], chosen by a distinguished committee of Franklin, Adams and Jefferson. That motto celebrates strength and unity through diversity. ‘In God We Trust’ would be appropriate in a theocracy, but is not an appropriate motto in a nation founded on a godless constitution.

"And to be accurate it would need to read, ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that make a silly motto? Congress was wrong to adopt a motto that by definition excludes all nonbelieving citizens, now numbering almost a quarter of the adult population.

"If this bill is signed into law, FFRF will carefully monitor the divisiveness it creates and will ask students and parents to contact us over concerns." 

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS STORY: NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers have passed a bill to require public schools to prominently display the national motto, "In God We Trust."

It would take effect immediately if Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signs it.

The measure requires schools to display the motto in a prominent location, either as a plaque, artwork, or in some other form.

Whether this motto represents an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion is a question that has invited legal challenges in other states with similar laws.

But the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Susan Lynn, says the "motto and founding documents are the cornerstone of freedom and we should teach our children about these things."

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