The NCSL Blog

22
By Daniel Thatcher

“In God We Trust” was codified as the national motto in 1956 during the Red Scare accompanying the Cold War at the urging of the Knights of Columbus and several other organizations.

An "In God We Trust" sign is seen at a middle school in Rapid City, S.D. Staff began installing the national motto in the district's 23 schools in May. Katy Urban/Rapid City Area SchoolsAfter the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, states began requiring the display of the motto in public spaces, particularly in public schools.

By September 2019, at least 19 states had enacted laws that either allow or require the display of the national motto in public buildings, including school buildings. Of these 19 states, nine have statutory language stating that public buildings may display the national motto.

Nine states contain language specifying that schools shall display the national motto. Ohio requires the display of the national motto if a copy of it is donated to a public school.

An exhaustive review of each statute revealed no specific litigation challenging the display of the national motto in public schools. In 2018, the Arkansas attorney general provided a written opinion that the state’s newly adopted law requiring the display of the motto in public schools would pass constitutional scrutiny.

Daniel Thatcher is a program director in NCSL's Education Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.