Thoughts & Prayers: Florida GOP Passes “In God We Trust” School Bill

Thoughts & Prayers: Florida GOP Passes “In God We Trust” School Bill

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting on February 14, 2018, the GOP-led Florida legislature refused (71 to 37) to consider any legislation that would curtail potential mass shooters from being able to obtain firearms. Instead, they are pushing legislation that would require all schools to post the state motto: “In God We Trust.”

According to HB 839, “Each district school board shall adopt rules to require, in all of the schools of the district and in each building used by the district school board, the display of the state motto, “In God We Trust,” designated under s. 15.0301, in a conspicuous place.”

The Bill’s Origins

The bill’s Democratic House sponsor is Rep. Kim Daniels – the same lawmaker who passed the ‘Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act‘ last year that prohibits Florida public school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, & school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression.”

Speaking about her legislation, Daniels focused not on the slogan being a uniting motto but on its inherently Christian, religious message. “He is not a Republican or a Democrat. He is not black or white. He is the light, and our schools need light in them like never before,” she told The Tampa Bay Times.

“But the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart,” she added. We cannot put God in a closet when the issues we face are bigger than us.”

The Tampa Bay Times added that Daniels cited video game violence saying she told them “children are being trained to become virtual assassins” through those games.

No accredited study has ever linked video game violence to real life violence. This has been confirmed repeatedly by multiple studies over several decades. Any casual or weak link between video game and real life violence can’t be distinguished from any other form of media violence from news to movies to comic books.

That didn’t dissuade the Florida House from taking up and passing the bill in an almost unanimous 97-10 vote. (It moves on to the state Senate next.)

Scapegoats vs. Solutions

Much like placing the blame on mental health, video games and lack of religion are popular scapegoats in the immediate math of mass shootings – particularly those at public schools.

In reality, placing a religious motto in schools under the guise of preventing future mass shootings isn’t just disingenuous, it’s potentially unconstitutional – particularly given Rep. Daniels’ comments to press about the legislation.

Forcing an explicitly religious message into schools would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. While many local and state jurisdictions have traditionally been able to avoid having “In God We Trust” deemed unconstitutional by never actually referencing its religious nature (and sticking to the fact that it’s a motto that can allegedly serve a secular function), Daniels will have a harder time making this argument after openly commenting about needing religious influence in public schools.

But constitutionality isn’t even the most ridiculous part of this bill’s existence.

In a nutshell, HB 839 is the legislative version of ‘thoughts and prayers’ –  somethings that’s statistically never stopped a single mass shooting.

One argument conservatives and gun activists often make in the wake of mass shootings is pointing out that posting ‘gun free zone’ signs doesn’t stop people from shooting up school campuses. Using their own logic, how would religious messages stop potential shooters?

Existing religious clubs at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were insufficient to keep the shooter from murdering people – how will forcing schools to post a motto stop the next killer?

Friendly Atheist‘s Hemant Mehta touched on this noting:

The bill passed through the House on a 97-10 vote. Maybe those 97 legislators have no idea that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was already home to a club called First Priority, a Christian group, before the shooting. Or maybe they think future mass murderers will see the signs and rethink their actions. Or maybe God will finally get the hint that He doesn’t have to let innocent people be murdered by a disgruntled former student because He clearly forgot to intervene last time.

The argument that religion being absent from schools led to the shooting also doesn’t explain how mass shootings have recently occurred in actual churches – but that’s another article for another day.

Accompanied by another bill declaring pornography a public health risk, the GOP-led Florida legislature seems perfectly willing to allow more school children to die so long as the NRA continues filling their coffers.

As Emma González – the 18-year-old bisexual Latinx who survived the Parkland shooting and became one of the leading voices for change – said last week, “If all our government and president can do is send ‘thoughts and prayers,’ then it’s time for victims to be the change we need to see.”

She added:

“They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars—we call B.S.! They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred—we call B.S.! That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works—we call B.S.!”

It’s time to have an honest, open discussion about how to curb access to weapons of war in order to eliminate gun violence.


Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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