Some Rapid City Stevens students are willing to stand up for the First Amendment against Kristi’s creeping Christofascism. In response to the passage of Senate Bill 55, requiring every public school to display the Christian slogan “In God We Trust,” the Rapid City student organization Working to Initiate Social Equality is asking the Rapid City school board to comply with that mandate with a more inclusive design:
I think that’s a really foundational element of American society is that we are a cultural melting pot and it is really important that we make all people who come to America to feel welcome and to be more in accordance with the first amendment since we all have the freedom of religion [Abigail Ryan, quoted in Jeff Voss, “Group of Stevens High School Students Propose Modifications to ‘In God We Trust’ Signage,” KEVN-TV, updated 2019.05.14].
Even though we acknowledge that ‘In God We Trust’ is our national motto, we were hoping we could somehow create a design, and show that students really want to be inclusive, and demonstrate that we want to be aware of all religions….
Since we all have the freedom of religion, the establishment clause in the first amendment states that the United States Government and no government agency should be able to prefer one religion over another [Abigail Ryan, quoted in Calvin Cutler, “Rapid City Students Look to Expand ‘In God We Trust’ Requirement,” KNBN-TV, 2019.05.13].
In Ourselves, In Science… there are two things I can get on board with teaching all children
Nonetheless, even the proposed WISE design (which Ryan says is just one of many alternatives the students would offer) poses a problem. By naming a variety of supernatural beings, the school ensures that almost every school employee reciting the display would be forced to say something that he or she does not believe. When members of the teaching staff cannot endorse every word on an official statement from the school, the school should reconsider making that statement.
Separation of church and state prevents the government from endorsing any religion… and that includes endorsing many religions, even alongside the science and self-reliance that schools can and should teach daily. The inclusive design passes First Amendment muster only if we read into it an “or” and view the poster as an affirmation not of particular religious fervor but of our general commitment to democratic pluralism: “We believe in different gods, and some of us believe there are no gods, and that’s o.k., because we’re here to learn to get along and build and share America, regardless of our spiritual inclinations.”
The WISE students appear to understand the overarching need for pluralism. The Rapid City school board didn’t act on their proposal Monday, but we can hope they follow WISE’s recommendation and the signaled course of the Sioux Falls school district to turn Senator Phil Jensen’s theocratic and exclusionary SB 55 into an opportunity to teach kids our common values of pluralistic democracy.