RALEIGH — North Carolina public schools could soon become a little more religious, if the General Assembly passes a new bill that would force schools to display signs saying "In God We Trust."
The bill would require all public schools, both traditional and charter, to put a sign displaying both the national motto of "In God We Trust" and the state motto of "To Be Rather Than To Seem" in a prominent place on campus.
The legislation comes at a time when similar measures requiring "In God We Trust" signs to be placed in schools have passed in other Southern states.
House Bill 965 was filed Thursday and sponsored by four Republican members of the House of Representatives: Bert Jones of Rockingham County, Linda Johnson of Cabarrus County, Dean Arp of Union County and Phil Shepherd of Onslow County.
None of the bill’s four main sponsors could be reached for comment Thursday. However, the bill was criticized by the North Carolina ACLU.
"When any student walks into school to learn, they should be greeted equally and with respect — not confronted with divisive and unnecessary displays that send a message to students of different religious views, or none at all, that they are second-class or not welcome," ACLU communications director Mike Meno said.
A similar bill, which the same four lawmakers also filed Thursday, would create a free option for an "In God We Trust" license plate.
Contrary to popular belief, prayer is not banned in public schools, although school officials can’t endorse specific religions because doing so would violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In 2014, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that clarified students’ existing rights to pray during school, as well as organize religious clubs or reference religion in school work, as long as doing so didn’t disrupt school activities. Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed it into law.
"In God We Trust" was adopted as the national motto by Congress in 1956.
"In God We Trust" legislation was passed this spring by state lawmakers in Tennessee and Louisiana. The Louisiana bill, which would also require students to be taught about the national motto, is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Louisiana state Sen. Regina Barrow, a Democrat, told lawmakers during committee debate that she sponsored the bill because she thinks "it’s really important that young people understand the patriotic history" of the country, the Associated Press reported.