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SD House passes bill requiring public schools to display 'In God we trust' national motto

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota public schools may soon be required to display the United States national motto "In God we trust" in a prominent location for students to see.

The House on Wednesday, Feb. 27, by a 47-19 vote passed Senate Bill 55, which would make the display a mandate for all South Dakota public schools.

According to the bill, the display could be no smaller than 12 inches by 12 inches and could take the form of a plaque, artwork or "any other appropriate form as determined by the school principal."

The bill previously passed out of the Senate with a 27-7 vote, but looked much different at the time: The Senate-approved version of the bill said public schools "may" display the motto, but did not require it. SB 55 has since been amended to make the display required.

Representatives also amended the bill on Wednesday to add a section stating that the state's attorney general would defend any school district, board or employee should any lawsuit be filed as a result of the mandate. The state would also incur any associated legal expenses.

"If us [sic] as a body are willing to mandate this in our schools, then let's stand up as a state and be willing to defend them as well," said House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham.

The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Chris Johnson, R-Rapid City, said the bill is not intended to force religion on students, but instead to promote patriotism.

Opponents of the bill said whether a school decides to display the motto should be a local decision, rather than a mandate forced by the state. They also questioned how the law could be enforced, and the potential fiscal impact should the state defend against a legal challenge.

The newly amended bill now heads back to the Senate for consideration.