Mississippi Governor to Sign 'In God We Trust' Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Mississippi
March 21, 2001 12:00 am

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JACKSON, MS — Governor Ronnie Musgrove says he will ignore a threat of legal action and sign into law a bill that mandates that public schools display the slogan “In God We Trust” and allows a moment of silence in classrooms, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi said yesterday it would sue the state of Mississippi if the measure became law, calling it a clear a violation of separation of church and state.

“My decision to sign the bill ‘In God We Trust’ will not be based on the position of the ACLU,” Musgrove said. He has until March 24 to act on the bill.

The mandatory “In God We Trust” requirement was added by lawmakers to House Bill 51, which allowed an optional moment of quiet reflection in Mississippi public classrooms.

“The slogan ‘In God We Trust’ clearly endorses a religious point of view and implies a preference for a religious perspective,” said Jackson lawyer Jane Hicks, who is president of the ACLU of Mississippi.

Hicks said “silent reflection” is an act that courts consistently have interpreted as prayer. And, she added, requiring public school students to participate in any kind of prayer violates the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.

Supporters say they believe the slogan could withstand a court challenge because it was adopted as the national motto in 1956 and appears on United States money.

Musgrove said he had decided to sign the bill before learning of the lawsuit threat.

In the past few years, school prayer disputes in Jackson and Pontotoc gained national attention. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a Texas case last June, banned prayers over loudspeaker systems before public school football games. The decision sparked reaction in Mississippi, where some groups called for “spontaneous” pre-game prayer.

Representatives of the Tupelo-based American Family Association last year gave Mississippi legislators and other public officials 11-by-14-inch “In God We Trust” posters, with the word “God” depicted in large red letters. Several lawmakers display the framed posters in their offices.

Hicks said the best way to protect religious freedom is by keeping religion and government separate.

“We are obliged to protect students’ constitutional rights by suing the state of Mississippi if the governor signs the bill into law,” she said.

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