The Freedom From Religion Foundation placed eye-catching billboards in South Dakota’s largest cities to protest a new state law requiring “In God We Trust” in public schools. And it did catch the eyes of Gov. Kristi Noem and several state representatives.
One billboard initially went up on West 41st Street in Sioux Falls and the other at Baken Park in Rapid City. The Sioux Falls billboard message then moved to 41st Street. FFRF also placed the message on a billboard in Pierre, the state capital, on Highways 14 and 83.
The billboard message features an irreverent cartoon showing the presidents immortalized on Mount Rushmore skeptically proclaiming “There goes the neighborhood” as the motto “In God We Trust” is carved into the mountainside. The cartoon was penned for FFRF by Steve Benson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who formerly worked for the Arizona Republic.
On Sept. 13, the Rapid City Journal ran an op-
ed titled, “Local billboard challenges ‘In God We Trust’ legislation,” written by Kent Bush, the newspaper’s editor. He spoke with Kristin Wileman, press secretary for Gov. Noem, who said, “The governor believes that it is important for students in our schools to remember the foundational principles our country was founded on. We should never be afraid to proclaim that we are one nation under God.”
Bush also quoted state Sen. Phil Jensen, who said, “I am amazed, but I’m not really surprised. . . . [FFRF] is just trying to stir things up and turn public opinion against us.”
FFRF Co-President said that’s exactly right — FFRF does want to change public opinion.
“There has been such concern expressed by our South Dakota members and from Americans across the country over this misguided and exclusionary law,” comments Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
South Dakota state Rep. Chris Johnson tried to make the silly claim that the national motto is for everyone.
“It is the opposite of exclusionary,” he said. “‘In God We Trust’ doesn’t say who God is.”
But Gaylor notes that the motto was adopted at the height of the Cold War. She calls it divisive, saying it fosters the false perception that piety is somehow equated with patriotism. That perception has bred discriminatory attitudes toward nonbelievers, who are consequently at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to social acceptance.
Yet many prominent U.S. Founders were Deists and promoters of the Enlightenment. Our nation’s original motto, E Pluribus Unum [out of many, come one], chosen by the distinguished committee of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, fosters the concept of unity. “In God We Trust” is a completely inappropriate motto for our nation, given the fact that the U.S. Constitution is itself godless, and the document’s only references to religion are exclusionary, such as barring any religious test for public office.
“We hate to see a captive audience of public schoolchildren targeted by the Religious Right and the Christian Nationalists who are behind this legislation,” adds Gaylor. Project Blitz, a legislative assault to flood state legislatures with bills promoting hard-line Christian Nationalist views, is behind South Dakota’s new “In God We Trust” law and many other “model bills” intended to entangle religion and government. Project Blitz is the brainchild of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.
FFRF’s advertising is made possible thanks to kind donors to our advertising fund. Go to ffrf.org/donate, click on “Donate,” then, under the dropdown menu that says, “How would you like your donation to be used,” go to “Advertising/PR.”