Florida: Legislature Considered Requiring Schools to Display “In God We Trust” – 2018

Bill requiring public schools to display state’s motto “in a conspicuous place” died in State Senate

Tallahassee, FL

A law that would have required public schools to display prominently Florida’s motto, “In God We Trust,” earned bipartisan support in the state’s House of Representatives before dying in the state Senate’s Committee on Education in March.

Key Players

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a pastor and Democrat representing Duval County, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers approved it on February 21, 2018, the same day that students gathered in the state capitol to demand stricter gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Daniels drew criticism for remarking on the House floor, “it is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed, but the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart,” reported NPR. She also claimed that the legislation was inspired by a message she received from God. “I believe it was God, and I heard a voice say, ‘Do not politicize what has happened in Florida and do not make this a thing of division,’” she told fellow lawmakers.

Further Details

Motivated by animosity toward the Soviet Union, federal lawmakers adopted “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States in 1956. Though the phrase first appeared on Florida’s flag as part of the state seal in 1868, it became the official state motto in 2006, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Sue Woltanski, a Monroe County parent and public schools advocate, testified before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee that the bill was unnecessary, reported the Times. “Current statute satisfies the requirement to display the state motto which is, of course, on the state flag,” she said. She suggested the committee focus on “real education issues.” However, the subcommittee unanimously approved the bill, which was then passed by the full House of Representatives on a vote of 97-10, reported NPR.

Atheists of Florida, an organization of non-religious citizens, offered to provide signs to Florida’s public schools if the measure was approved, the Times reported. These signs would have also included the line “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” a clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. “We want to help educate about the First Amendment and the establishment clause, as well as about the diversity in our country,” the group’s executive director told the Times.

Outcome

Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Though the bill earned bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate Committee on Education on March 10, 2018.

External References

SB 1158

HB 839

Florida lawmakers consider requiring schools to post “In God we trust”, Tampa Bay Times

Florida vote to post ‘In God we Trust’ in schools prompts a question: Whose God? Penn Live

Atheist group says it will offer alternative ‘In God We Trust’ signs to Florida schools, The Hill

Florida Lawmakers Advance Bill Requiring Schools To Display ‘In God We Trust’, NPR

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018