Another Sign of the Times

This week, NOSHA received a media inquiry from Louisiana Record, which describes itself as a legal journal covering Louisiana’s legal system. Its goal is to provide an objective view of the legal landscape in Louisiana, as well as an active forum for both sides of the argument. They asked if we see House Bill 8 as problematic or as an illegal injection of religion into the state’s classrooms, since the law requires all classrooms in public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools post signage with In God We Trust printed with minimum sizing specified. Following is the text of our reply, and excerpts can be found in their coverage of their coverage here. We are grateful for their willingness to ask for and publish our opinion in their newsletter. Offers like that are few and far between.

For the past 25 years,The New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (NOSHA) has kept a vigilant eye on what we see as an erosion of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state. We believe that “in God we trust” as the national motto could never have survived a competent court challenge when it was adopted in 1956, but that federal lawmakers were anxious to prove their allegiance to a “God-fearing America” during the height of the cold war against the “godless Communism” reigning in the Soviet Union. 

But the fact that it was adopted as the national motto does not make it anything more than a memorialized theological meme, now scheduled to be placed ubiquitously throughout every school in our state. Ms. Horton, the bill’s author, claimed that since the motto does not promote a specific religion or any god in particular, it does not violate the Separation Clause of the First Amendment; and then she added “but it certainly recognizes a higher power.” 

At NOSHA, we believe that any references to “higher powers”, other than the physical forces of nature, or the spirit of mankind itself are to be found only in religious territory—practically and metaphorically— and that this law violates minor children’s and adult students’ protection from religious proselytizing in public spaces. A student raised by non-theist parents or guardians may feel intimidated by and pressured to stay away from expressing their true feelings about it, or be at risk of mockery, derision, or even bullying.

This is just another “feel-good” message that could have adverse unintended consequences for some kids unnecessarily; but hopefully in a matter of weeks or months, this signage will fade invisibly into the background of a cheerfully decorated classroom wall.