Kansas state Rep. Michael Capps testified during a committee hearing in favor of his bill
Republicans are pushing for a law allowing government buildings and schools across Kansas to display the national motto of “In God We Trust,” a move allowing Christians to better express their religious beliefs in public life.
A Kansas House committee heard testimony in February on a bill sponsored by 13 GOP lawmakers – led by Kansas state Rep. Michael Capps – that would allow all public school classrooms and libraries to post the motto.
The national American Atheists organization argues that such a law would stigmatize nonbelievers and religious minorities, representing a step toward harsher anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion measures.
In a statement, Nick Fish, president of American Atheists, said: “This bill has nothing to do with educating Kansas students.
“It’s clear some lawmakers care more about forcing a religious message into school classrooms than teaching the facts.”
The bill’s lead sponsor, Wichita Republican Capps, said the motto should be displayed to acknowledge the nation’s “history and founding principles.”
“In God We Trust” was adopted by Congress as the national motto in 1956 at the approval of President Dwight Eisenhower, but Capps said the phrase echoes words in the national anthem and the Declaration of Independence.
According to Life Site News, State Rep. Michael Capps, a Republican, sponsored legislation that mandates every state and municipal building in Kansas, including libraries and classrooms in public schools, colleges and universities, display the official motto adopted by the U.S.
Congress in 1956. The motto first appeared on a two-cent coin in 1864 during the American Civil War and has appeared on paper currency since 1957, replacing the phrase “E Pluribus Unum.”
According to the Wichita Eagle newspaper, Capps said of House Bill 2476, “It should be displayed as an acknowledgment of our country’s history and founding principles.”
Co-sponsor Rep. Brandon Reed said the motto is the right remedy for troubled times.
“If one kid walks into school and they see over the auditorium or in the office window, or something like that, and they’ve been having a bad day, if they just see that message, if it speaks internally to them some way, and they can change their outlook for the day, I think it’s worth it,” Reed said.
The lower house of the Kansas legislature had an open hearing on the bill Thursday.
Democrat Rep. Stephanie Clayton was not one of the supporters, saying, “I already have some heartburn here, because not everyone in this country or state does believe in God.”
Republican Rep. Blake Carpenter offered a lukewarm response. “I love our national motto, I do support it,” then added, “but I’m curious, do you think when you say ‘every classroom or library’ might be slight overkill instead of just putting it at the main entrance or the main lobby … would be just as good?”
The bill does not require public expenditures. Instead, donors would provide funds to schools and governments to purchase displays or donate materials. The bill requires that each display must be at least 11 inches wide by 14 inches high, offer the motto in large letters, and incorporate the flags of the United States and Kansas.
During the hearing in the state senate on Thursday, Reed recalled for his colleagues the example set by 15-year-old Preston Cope, a victim of the deadly 2018 shooting at a high school in Kansas.
Reed showed what he identified as the last photograph Cope took, which was a display of “In God We Trust.”
Josh Buckman of American Atheists, a group dedicated to the “absolute separation of religion from government,” told WLKY news that “I believe that ‘In God We Trust’ just puts certain pressure on people in order to conform to a certain belief system.”
On the group’s website, Buckman is identified as a “recovering Catholic” who advocates for Planned Parenthood.
“This bill has nothing to do with educating Kansas students,” American Atheists leader Nick Fish said in a statement. “It’s clear some lawmakers care more about forcing a religious message into school classrooms than teaching the facts.”
During the hearing, Pastor Jason Crosby of First Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, declared, “Christians are called to love one another, and you are not loving someone else if you demand that they conform to your way and perspective. That’s not love. That’s not placing your trust in God. That’s imposing your power on others. That would be state-sanctioned school bullying.”
In response to critics, Rep. Capps emailed a statement to the Wichita Eagle, recalling that President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill that established the national motto.
“Misguided people have attempted to sunder the country ever since then,” Capps said. “If fringe groups are offended, they are welcome to move elsewhere.”
Capps added that he will continue to pray that atheists “come to find the love our country our founders showed.”
Legislation has been introduced in other states, including Florida and Oklahoma, to require the display of the motto in schools and public buildings.