Universal Life Church Case Law
Phone: (614) 715-9048 Fax: (614) 715-9049
Email: info@ulccaselaw.com
ULC Case Law
1629 K Street NW, Ste 300
Washington, D.C. 20006


South Dakota Public Schools Add “In God We Trust” to Walls

September 6th, 2019

South Dakota now requires public schools to prominently display the country's motto "In God We Trust"  on walls or plaques.
South Dakota now requires public schools to prominently display the country’s motto “In God We Trust” on walls or plaques.

Many public schools in South Dakota noticed something on their first day back to school: the country’s motto “In God We Trust” has been placed on the walls either as a result of paint or stencils. This is because a new state law recently took effect which requires this message to be displayed in areas where students are most likely to see it.

The Birth of the Motto

The “In God We Trust” motto first appeared on coinage in the United States as a result of increased religious fervor during the Civil War. It was not until 1956, however, that the phrase became the motto of the United States.

How the South Dakota Regulation Became Effective

Governor Kristi Noem signed the regulation into effect in March, 2019. In part, the regulation states that the “In God We Trust” motto must be at least 12 by 12 inches in size and easily readable. The motto can take multiple forms including mounted plaques, student artwork, or other representations that are approved by the school’s principal. Part of the motivation cited by lawmakers is to inspire patriotism.

Constitutionality of the “In God We Trust” Motto

Courts have applied the United States Supreme Court’s three part Lemon test to decision addressing the placement of religious messages in public areas. First decided in 1971, the Lemon decision states that a challenged religious message by the government is only permissible if the message has a secular purpose, a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and that no excessive entanglement is created between the church and state. In many cases concerning the national motto, courts have found that “In God we trust” is not a “religious” message and passes these three elements. 

Implementation of the Regulation

South Dakota’s Rapid City has responded that school staff members have spent the last several months installing the “In God We Trust” motto to the area’s 23 schools. One Rapid City area schools community relations manager reports that the cost of stenciling a motto costs approximately $2,800 in a Grand Rapids school. 

Response to the Regulation

This new regulation has resulted in much conversation in the community. Some sources have responded positively that many kids in South Dakota schools are seeing the motto on a daily basis. There are also some critics of this new regulation. Some opponents of this regulation have even threatened to pursue a lawsuit on the basis that the motto excludes non-Christian faiths.

The Impact of the Regulation

In the last few years, several states including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee have approved legislation allowing public schools to post “In God We Trust.” It remains uncertain what impact if any this new South Dakota regulation will have elsewhere in the country.

Documenting Religious Developments

The separation between church and state has long been recognized. Despite this, cases arise that test the exact boundaries of this relationship. By continuing to read the Universal Life Church’s blog, you can remain up to date with the most recent of these developments.

Leave a Reply