The Link Between Texas’ Law Requiring ‘In God We Trust’ Signs in Schools and the January 6 Insurrection

In God We Trust gallows from January 6th Insurrection. Image: Tyler Merbler/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A Texas law requiring public schools “to assert the country’s collective trust in God” by displaying signs that declare “In God We Trust” in every public school classroom has come under scrutiny over the past couple of weeks as citizens have attempted—unsuccessfully—to donate signs with the motto in LGBTQ+ rainbow lettering or in Arabic. There is, of course, a reason these signs have been rejected, and it’s not the one-sign limit some have claimed. This pushback in fact only highlights the direct connection between the January 6th insurrection and these In God We Trust laws (along with the legislators behind them).

But first, here’s the most important thing about “In God We Trust”: We don’t. There is no “collective trust in God” because there’s no collective belief in the same, single god. The Jewish kid sitting in that classroom knows it’s not her god on that poster. So do the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Muslim children. The nonreligious, atheists, and agnostics certainly understand. They’re left out as well. Alienated by their own government. Deliberately. Never mind that perhaps two-thirds of Gen Z might be excluded, it’s understood by all that only Christians are included in “We.” 

The exclusion is the point. Neither this bill nor the national motto “asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God,” as Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes claims. Both are meant to insinuate Christian Nationalism into the American identity. The goal here is to suggest that one particular species of conservative Christianity is government approved and is the choice of “We” the people. The goal is to suggest that they are the real Americans, the in-group, and everyone else is lesser and less than. And that is precisely the goal of Christian Nationalism. 

Earlier this year I spearheaded and contributed to Christian Nationalism at the January 6, 2021, Insurrection, a report that documented the role Christian Nationalism played in the attempt to overthrow our democracy. The report included contributions by leading experts like Katherine Stewart, Anthea Butler, Andrew Whitehead, Sam Perry, Amanda Tyler, Jemar Tisby, and myself. Though there were other factors, as the report states, “Christian Nationalism was the driving force” behind the attack—but it’s also the driving force behind these In God We Trust displays. 

The January 6th insurrectionists trusted in God. They asserted that trust publicly. Even the evangelical magazine Relevant noticed the trend, writing, “The people who stormed the Capitol building did so with “JESUS 2020” signs, “In God We Trust” banners and one enormous cross.”

One group carried a handwritten “In God We Trust” sign with Christian crosses on the corners. A man photographed holding the sign that day wore a white shirt emblazoned with a red cross—sold as a “Crusader Knights Templar Distressed Cross T-Shirt.” He was also captured leading a prayer circle outside the Capitol as attackers overwhelmed police. He prayed while a woman in the prayer circle held the same sign aloft. 

Most infamously, they reiterated that trust on the gallows they erected at the Capitol. “In God We Trust,” “God Bless the USA,” “Hang for treason,” and “Amen.”

In God We Trust gallows from January 6th Insurrection. Image: Tyler Merbler/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

But the link between the January 6th insurrection and these In God We Trust display laws is more intimate than a few overlapping mentions suggest. The drive to display In God We Trust in public schools was lifted right out of the Christian Nationalist playbook. Literally. 

Project Blitz is an alliance of Christian Nationalist groups bent on imposing that ideology on the country—and schoolchildren—through state legislatures. It’s the ALEC of Christian Nationalism, as the headline of the RD piece that broke the story put it. Baptizing itself Project Blitz was probably a little too on the Nazi nose, though it’s since rechristened itself Freedom For All, which is at once Orwellian and milquetoast. The group has published several versions of playbooks containing sample laws for state legislators, one of which is the model for the In God We Trust display law. 

Since the rise of Project Blitz in 2017, 11 states have passed these bills (AL, AR, AZ, FL, IN, KY, LA, SC, SD, TN, and TX). Several other states had randomly passed such laws in the past, like Utah in the early 90s, while Texas had a permissive display law dating back to the early 2000s. But this recent assault is more explicitly Christian Nationalist and coordinated. State legislators around the country are using this Christian Nationalist playbook to divide the country along religious lines. 

Because of my role spearheading the report on Christian Nationalism in the Capitol insurrection, I was asked to deliver written testimony to the January 6th Committee. In it, I included a new section that looked at the influence of Christian Nationalism on state and local officials, including quite a few who participated in the insurrection. One of these was former Pennsylvania State Rep. Rick Saccone who, I noted, was the likely source of these display bills for Project Blitz as well as the entire modern history of these bills. 

Saccone recently lost a bid to become Pennsylvania’s next Lieutenant Governor. But on January 6, 2021, he was at the Capitol. “We’re live here in front of the US Capitol. Hundreds of thousands of people storming the Capitol. They broke down the gates,” he says in a selfie video. “We’re trying to run out all the evil people in there and all the RINOs that have betrayed our president.” He signs off with his favorite tagline, “Until next time, ‘In God We Trust.’”

As I explain in the testimony, it was Saccone who kicked off this decade’s wave of Christian Nationalist In God We Trust bills:

Saccone proposed his bills in 2012/13 and 2015/16. At that point, no state had passed such a law in almost a decade. After Saccone’s 2016 proposal, Project Blitz included a model bill in its 2017/18 playbook: “‘In God We Trust,’ shall be prominently displayed in a conspicuous place in all public elementary and secondary school classrooms and libraries in this State, in all public colleges and universities in this State, and in each government building or facility in this State.” Both of Saccone’s proposals and the Project Blitz handbook christened the legislation, “the National Motto Display Act.”

The Texas bill requiring the display of this phrase looks an awful lot like Project Blitz’s National Motto Display Act, which in turn mirrors Saccones’. No surprise there, as Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes is a Christian Nationalist. He was also the driving force behind SB8 (mob rule over the womb), severe voting restrictions, and a bill to require teaching the Bible in English classes. This is a man who’s focused on using the power of the government to impose his religion on others, while also stripping them of their rights. 

Christian Nationalists like Hughes don’t want equal justice under the law. They’re seeking Christian Supremacy under the law.