August 15, 2019

Project Blitz is Undermining Separation of Church and State

dollar bill in god we trust

Maybe it is just me, but it seems like the Project Blitz folks have been getting really good at something they shouldn't be any good at: winning. Although our national secular organizations have been opposing them in the courts and calling attention to their efforts to undermine the separation of church and state, we continue to see them prevailing anyway. States like South Dakota and Louisiana (as well as Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, and Arizona) are legally displaying "In God We Trust" in every public school. How can this possibly be legal? The states passed laws requiring it, and courts have not been willing to rule that these laws violate church-state separation even though it appears obvious to most of us that they do. The separation of church and state is under attack, and it feels like we are losing ground.

It doesn't even seem to matter that many of those supporting laws to require the mandatory promotion of one particular god in public schools are transparent about their intent.

"I still feel strongly that America is a Christian nation,” said Shelby Ainsworth, principal of West Monroe High School. “I want our high school youngsters exposed to as much as that as possible."
Sure, we still hear some appeal to an outdated form of patriotism as if belief in their preferred god ever had anything to do with patriotism; however, it does seem like fewer are finding it necessary to conceal their agenda. This should be cause for concern to those of us who would prefer that children attending public school have at least one environment where they can be free from superstitious nonsense.

What needs to be emphasized in any discussion of this sort of god-promotion in public schools (or any other part of government where it does not belong) is what it communicates. As tempting as it is to claim that having an "In God We Trust" banner hanging in the hallway of one's school is trivial (even if it is also blatantly false), we need to recognize what this says to the children in that school. It says that they are not part of the collective "us" unless they believe in one particular god. They are not "real Americans," and they do not belong here. These symbols matter because what they communicate is powerful and destructive.

I have little doubt that some of the rank-and-file supporters of Project Blitz and similar efforts are "true believers" who think that re-inserting their preferred god in our schools will solve various social ills. Some of those organizing these efforts may also believe this nonsense, but I suspect that most do not. My guess is that most of them know exactly what they are doing with these signs and symbols. They are maintaining Christian privilege and promoting a form of school-sanctioned bullying where children who believe in the "wrong" gods or no gods at all will be alienated or worse.

Imagine the atheist student who is tormented by peers because she doesn't believe in gods. When she goes to a teacher for help, what is that teacher going to do when there are large "In God We Trust" banners hanging throughout the school? This is not a safe learning environment for a child who does not believe in gods. I think some of those pushing these laws are well aware of this; it may even be part of what they are trying to accomplish.

As upsetting as the concept of school-sanctioned bullying should be, the reality appears to be far worse. These bills were passed by state legislators and signed into law by state governors. This amounts to state-sanctioned bullying and is precisely the sort of thing the Establishment Clause was supposed to prevent. The fact that it hasn't done so reflects our failure to adequately safeguard the separation of church and state. We need to do better.