Back in 1802, a famous phrase was born. For what can probably be considered obvious reasons at this point, that phrase has been consistently attributed to the Constitution ever sense. Therefore, people are often rather surprised when they learn that “Separation of Church and State” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution of the United States.
The phrase was written by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in 1802, and to me the reason or context of the letter is not as important as the phrase in its extended version, because it is only that phrase that has historical – and present-day – implications. The original, extended version of the phrase, written immediately after Thomas Jefferson quoted the religion clause from the First Amendment, stated, “thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Perhaps it is because I am a cross between a visual and tactile learner, but the full phrase helps me physically see a wall, and beside that wall on either side, perfectly separated from one another, are Church and State. To me this means that anything legislated by government to which tax dollars are used must maintain the separation of Church and State. And I don’t think I’d feel that strongly about it had the Supreme Court not upheld that notion on multiple occasions. They believe the religion clause in the Constitution is supported and more properly explained by Jefferson’s phrase, “wall of separation between Church and State.” In other words, even though it is NOT in the Constitution, it is a very important and noteworthy phrase with historical legal precedent.
In the past few months, I’ve heard more and more about states intending to plaster the phrase “In God We Trust” in schools or offer classes on Biblical teachings. In Kentucky they just passed a law that the phrase MUST go in every school in the state with a minimum of 12 inch high letters (and I really want to make a joke wondering in which book of the Bible those provisions were outlined, but I digress.)
If we consider this “God in schools” movement in a strictly pragmatic sense, does it not directly go against both the religion clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution AND that extremely famous Thomas Jefferson phrase that has been used to decide court cases at the Supreme Court level? It seems quite obvious to me that it does.
I grew up Presbyterian, went to a Freewill Baptist college, turned Methodist for a little while, and now I’m back Presbyterian whenever I manage to keep my eyes open throughout an entire sermon. I’m no atheist heathen, in other words, but I could care less if YOU are. Your rights are the exact same as mine. But for those who may argue against me for religious purposes, my point is that I actually do believe in God. I’m clearly not a “pray seven times a day facing Israel while holding a wooden cross” type of Christian, but I’m a very open-minded person with undeniable belief in a higher power. I’m also a thinker, and thinkers tend to think through all sides of topics, especially if they are controversial.
And what I think is that plastering “In God We Trust” on public schools is not only unconstitutional, but it is also an idea that should be both terrifying, contemptible, and even harmful to Christians. Even if you pray six times a day, haven’t missed church since Reagan was president, and have twenty-seven pictures of Jesus in your house, I’m going to try to explain to you why even you should not want God plastered on public school property.
A Possible Day at an “In God We Trust” School
Let’s pretend there is a high school in Kentucky called Tornado Alley Senior High School. They have a new math teacher named Mr. Lee, a beloved figure the whole world over. But Mr. Lee has a dark side. At night, he is the drummer for a group called “You Don’t Seance,” an alt rock group that actually summons the spirits of zombies who would rather come back to life than make those God-awful sounds they make.
Mr. Lee’s “God” looks markedly different than the God of the Bible (not to mention the one in the front lobby.) His God resides only in him; nobody else can see or talk to his God. And it’s a good thing, too. His God has been telling him for years that his true calling is to go live out his days in a small grotto in Antarctica that’s been chiseled into the third glacier on the left. His God also has him convinced that a diet consisting of nothing but fried cereal will ensure his place in the underworld.
Now tell me this. Is THIS the man you want answering questions about God if your child asks them? Even if it’s something as simple as “Hey, Mr. Lee, why did they put that ‘In God We Trust’ mural in the front lobby?” You do NOT want that man to answer that question. Not yet, anyway. Not during the impressionable years. Mr. Lee is a REALLY good math teacher, but you DO NOT want him talking to your child about God.
I’ve been teaching for seven years now (and no, nothing above described me, I did it solely so I could say I was beloved worldwide) and I’ve worked with some pretty strange people. Some of them are strange in the best and most enjoyable way possible, but Thomas Jefferson knew what the hell he was talking about with that wall. Be careful what you wish for when it pertains to your wish to have God plastered throughout a public school. It might not turn out exactly the way you expect. And those of you that want teachers praying with your kids, do you want the brilliant Mr. Lee leading such a devotion?
Anyway, later that same imaginary day, after your child spoke to Mr. Lee about God and now your child is convinced that heaven is full of zombies (not to mention that heaven is actually a weightless utopia in the underworld and everybody’s naked and fornicating wildly – with zombies of all things – and yes, he will be fired after the conversation he had with your child,) a fight breaks out in the cafeteria because the school got a little exuberant with the God advertising and put another one in the cafeteria.
A bully by the nickname of Dougie Dude decides to trick a Muslim student into giving him a thumbs up, and he did so right in front of the “In God We Trust” mural where his picture was taken without his knowledge. Naturally, Dougie Dude posts this picture to Instagram and adds a caption that reads, “Kimkish be saying f**k Allah, he love God now.”
When this comes to the attention of Kimkish Gadolfi, he breaks out some kind of Al-Qaeda death camp body slam (because he learned how to protect himself, not because he was aiming to kill us all in the name of Allah) and Dougie Dude starts convulsing and vomiting blood all over the wall until it says “In Gad We Trust.” The memes for that one are going to be epic. Blasphemous, but epic.
Anybody think this is outlandish? If you do, you haven’t stepped foot in a high school in far too long. A conversation about God breaking out in a classroom? Yeah, that can happen. When it happens in mine, I simply say, “I respect whatever you want to believe, but it’s not something we’re going to discuss in math class.” But do you know what other teachers might say? No, you don’t. I don’t either. What if they get Mr. Lee?
And a fight breaking out in the cafeteria? Happens weekly. Hell, a couple of years ago, a girl hiked up her skirt, sat down on her boyfriend’s lap, and they had sex in front of four hundred other students. You don’t think these kids are crazy enough to fight over a God they don’t understand?
The question I’m asking with these examples is why is this necessary? Seriously, why is it necessary to plaster “In God We Trust” on the walls of schools when there are churches EVERYWHERE that are supposed to monopolize that job? There is nothing in the curriculum of any subject that requires us to cover the topic of an arbitrary “God” unless we’re talking a strictly historical account or in mythology, but as we’ll see later, that’s not the “God” that’s going on the wall of the school, now is it?
And if there WAS something in the curriculum that required us to teach about the arbitrary “God,” I hope we would be smart enough as a school system to make it a “Religions of the World” type of class. I don’t feel the need to elaborate much more on the major question I’m asking here because it stands so perfectly all by itself. Why is all of this necessary?
Well For One, It’s Provocational
At this point in our history, with the knowledge we possess of our world and especially our country, there are no real surprises as to the demographic makeup of pretty much everybody and everything you encounter on a daily basis. I guarantee you know the percentage of whites that go to your child’s school or the number of Hispanics that work in your building or the number of blacks on your favorite television show.
You also know that some very extreme Muslims infiltrated the United States and were responsible for the single worst terrorist attack on our home soil, and because of that, there is a percentage of the population who will never believe we should allow Muslims to live among us. They do not care that far less than one percent of all Muslims will ever become radical extremists.
Have you ever heard of Westboro Baptist Church? Yeah, there is probably a comparable percentage of Christians that are radical extremists, too. It’s not just Westboro either. But for a little proof that Westboro is part of the Christian one percent, their website is godhatesfags.com, for God sakes.
It will never be admitted, but it is very, very obvious that legislation such as this is used to be provocational towards groups like Muslims, atheists, agnostics, and any other group with a hazy or nonexistent view of “God.” The lawmakers and citizens in favor of this law solely intend for the “God” in “In God We Trust” to be seen as the Christian God. Not one of them will ever admit that, but it’s pretty obvious when one considers their entire legislative, political, and religious bodies of work.
And what exactly does this provocation say? It says that anybody who doesn’t believe in the Christian God will always be a bit of an outsider here. You can stay because the law says you can stay, but we’re going to make you feel uncomfortable if you don’t believe in OUR God. I just don’t think God would think too highly of his believers provoking such racial and religious tensions over something that just isn’t necessary.
And remember, each and every person in this country is free to worship as they see fit. As long as they have a church, or as long as churches welcome anyone in their doors, they’ll always have a place to worship. No matter the age, no matter the religious experience, no matter an individual’s sordid history, there is a place for everyone to worship the style, substance, and God (or lack thereof) that they see fit. And to me, that place is not a public school building. Not now, not ever.
And It’s Extremely Hypocritical
I think it’s starting to even out a little because of the press it has gotten, but it is a fairly wide-ranging assumption that most college students are exposed to some pretty liberal ideas on college campuses. No shock there, right? Heck, in what was presumed to be an insult to college “teachers,” or at least that’s what his enablers were selling, Donnie Trump Jr. even called teachers “losers” because he said they were trying to “sell you on socialism from birth.” From birth? Are preschools teaching about universal health care? Are we sure he was only talking about the COLLEGE “teachers” that teach and indoctrinate the potty-trainers and booger flingers?
But let’s roll with the college indoctrination first. Is it true that college students are exposed to some pretty liberal ideas on college campuses? Probably, but they chose the school, right? Or the parents chose the school? And at 18 years old, aren’t they old enough to walk away if they are experiencing something they don’t agree with? And are we so lazy with our generalizations that we are going to say that EVERY college campus indoctrinates students with liberal ideas when there are groups on every campus that are conservative, sometimes radically so? I went to a very strict Freewill Baptist liberal arts college. I don’t recall the liberal indoctrination. Stop generalizing. It’s not fair even to the ones you’re right about.
But how about middle and high schools? I’m a high school math teacher. Are we indoctrinating students? Some people say we are. I have no idea how I’m doing anything but teaching math, but they claim we’re indoctrinating students every single year. I even heard a guy on that ever dependable news source known as social media say that nothing in modern history books even happened and that they’re all filled with lies because the school systems are trying to push a liberal agenda. This is one of the many reasons I stay away from conspiracy theory websites.
But still the claim is made anytime an individual or parent finds out their child has a gay friend or they see an LGBTQ rally on campus or they march for women’s rights or they befriend an immigrant who stole a well-deserving American’s college scholarship or they hear a speaker who worships Bernie Sanders or they drive on a new bridge that stole their tax dollars.
“They’re being indoctrinated with all the liberal ideas!! They’re forcing their gayness and their heathen religions and their nasty foreigners and their socialism on me!!” No, they’re really not. They AND you are free to walk away. We’re ALL free to walk away when we’re faced with something we don’t want to hear or see. We’re free to speak out against it, vote against it, whatever. And these older young people are even free to use their freedom of speech to say, “I don’t believe in the same things you believe in. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get a very pretentious-sounding latte.”
It’s not society’s job to teach children how to embrace and demonstrate the very power of their own freedom because in most cases, the only boundaries to freedom are the laws that keep us from infringing on the freedoms of our fellow citizens. But it CAN be a parent’s job to nurture and support and encourage and help them understand their freedom. By high school, if a student stays in a setting where they feel they are being unfairly indoctrinated, they are old enough to realize they have made that choice to stay. They’re also free to walk away or stand up for their beliefs.
But is a third grader free to walk away from the giant, taxpayer-funded advertisement that reads “In God We Trust” facing her every day as she walks into school? Is she free to walk away when this sign fuels a discussion in class about God and her Jehovah’s Witness teacher tells her there is no Holy Trinity? Is this not indoctrination? If you say it’s not – if you think this is somehow perfectly acceptable and yet social indoctrination on college campuses is an abomination – please go look up the word hypocrisy. It’s a pretty neat word.
So Pertaining to God, What is Already Allowed or Banned in Public Schools?
I have at least three Facebook friends who forward this ridiculously stupid meme at least once a week that reads, “Just want to see how many people think prayer should be put back in our schools.” I want to scream at this meme every time I see it and say, “Prayer was never removed!!!!” The only thing that was removed was prayer LED BY a public school district employee or someone designated by them to which all students were essentially forced to listen.
Individual groups that want to pray on campus such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes are free to do so. Better yet, individuals that want to pray don’t even have to ask permission. They can pray anytime they want and in any setting within the public school they want. Organized or impromptu groups may have to ask permission to pray during certain times of the school day, and their prayers cannot be mandated throughout the school or spoken over an intercom, but public schools cannot stop them from praying.
In addition to prayer not being banned from public schools, there has never been a ban on religious discussion between students or the ability for a school system to offer a class about religion.
But look at the list of things that were all deemed UNCONSTITUTIONAL and tell me why “In God we Trust” would not make that list. Here’s the list (all are US Supreme Court decisions:)
- In 1948, it was deemed unconstitutional to practice religious instruction in public schools.
- In 1962, it was deemed unconstitutional for a teacher or person designated by a public school district to lead any type of prayer in school.
- In 1963, it was deemed unconstitutional to read the Bible over the school intercom.
- In 1963, it was deemed unconstitutional to require students to participate in prayer or Bible reading.
- In 1980, it was deemed unconstitutional to post the 10 Commandments on the wall of a public school.
- In 1985, it was deemed unconstitutional to have a moment of silence wherein the expectation or motivation for having it was to encourage prayer.
- In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that schools must allow religious student groups to meet in order to pray or worship if other non-religious groups were allowed to meet on campus.
- In 1992, it was deemed unconstitutional to have a member of the clergy perform nondenominational prayer at an elementary or secondary school graduation.
- In 2000, the court ruled that students may not use the school’s loudspeaker or intercom system for a student led and initiated prayer.
Nowhere in ANY of those decisions does it say that a student cannot pray on public school grounds. In fact, the old saying that says, “As long as there are tests, there WILL be prayer in schools” is absolutely 100% accurate so long as the student chooses to do so.
I was debating this topic with a devoutly religious man recently and he argued that “In God We Trust” was on our money and government buildings and in the “Declaration of Independence.” And oh yeah, he didn’t mention it, but it’s the official motto of the United States, signed into law to replace E Pluribus Unum by Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.
And you know what? I won’t quibble with it in all of those respects because I don’t think it’s being politicized there towards an audience that should be protected at all costs. Do I think it’s at least mildly unconstitutional? Yes, I believe it contradicts the language of the First Amendment AND Jefferson’s “separation of church and state.” But as my friend said, the morals and principles of our country were mostly derived from religion, and God is simply a universal acceptance that some power greater than us is in charge. I can’t argue a great deal with that.
But if you look at the current political climate, “In God We Trust” being plastered in schools is being done so by the regional winners of a political pissing contest, and as long as we politicize God, the words don’t belong in our schools to be seen by the one population in this country that should be protected from the REAL children who reside here, the adults.