Atheist activist Chaz Stevens plans to mess with Texas.
On Friday, I wrote about a new state law there, passed in 2021 but getting renewed focus in the new school year, that requires public schools to display “In God We Trust” posters as long as they’re donated or paid for by outside groups (no taxpayer money involved) and as long as they fulfill the law’s requirements.
Conservative Christians are already taking advantage of the situation, offering dozens of posters to school districts in various counties. As I pointed out the other day, this is simply the latest effort by conservatives in power to shove God in students’ faces.
What struck me as most frustrating about S.B. 797 was how it attempted to prevent any shenanigans. There seemed to be no way to make a bigger point about religious freedom and the need for church/state separation. In Kentucky, for example, a similar law a few years ago led one school to display a framed copy of the back of a dollar bill; another school (named after Abraham Lincoln) posted a picture of a penny.
Texas’ law was designed to prevent that kind of liberal creativity.
The law said the words “In God We Trust” had to be on the poster. The U.S. flag had to appear directly underneath those words, in the center. An image of the Texas flag also had to be on there. Most importantly, the signs could “not depict any words, images, or other information” beyond what was already specified. That last clause would knock out both of those Kentucky posters.
Here’s what one right-wing group in Texas is sending schools. It’s exactly what the law was intended to produce:
Other than there being two images of the Texas flag, for symmetry, Republicans got what they wanted. These posters say “God” in a way people can’t miss, mixing Christianity and patriotism in a way that courts likely won’t overturn.
I suggested that a similar poster could be designed with the word “God” in lighter print, almost invisible to the naked eye. Or schools could display another poster next to the donated religious ones, saying non-Christians and non-religious students were welcome there, too, or perhaps just showcasing the Establishment Clause. But those were minor reactions at best. They didn’t nullify the Christian posters.
Enter Chaz Stevens, a Florida activist known for his provocative stunts. Stevens most recently pushed for the Bible to be banned in Florida schools for the very same reasons conservative Christians were giving to ban other books. In the past, he also erected Festivus poles in the Florida Capitol to counter Nativity scenes.
Stevens wanted to send posters to Texas that said “In Satan We Trust More”…
2/ The proposed legislation was so loosey-goosey, it would have allowed for the following. pic.twitter.com/bD1yV61hiw— Chaz Stevens (@TheTweetOfJab) August 21, 2022
… but the law wouldn’t have allowed those to go up because, again, the rules only allow the words “In God We Trust” and the U.S./Texas flags.
That’s when it hit him: The law never said “In God We Trust” had to be in English.
It’s the “Air Bud” rule applied to church/state separation.
So the atheist from Florida created a version of the poster with “In God We Trust” written in Arabic in order to send them to Texas schools. Stevens told me, “I followed their ridiculous law, both in spirit and intent.”
Also, I sit corrected … re-reading the text, noticed the bit about the flags (location).— Chaz Stevens (@TheTweetOfJab) August 21, 2022
So, with that in mind, I updated the creative. pic.twitter.com/MBXJG3VH1o
Brilliant. The signs will inevitably make some conservative Christians queasy.
The obvious question is: Will it work? Will schools accept these donated posters? The truth is they don’t have a choice in the matter. If the posters are donated and meet the legal specifications, they must go up. The schools would be violating the law by rejecting his offer. That is, assuming they don’t have a Christian sign up already. (Stevens sent a letter to Carroll Senior High School, in Southlake, letting them know about his donation. That particular school district already has signs donated by a right-wing group.)
Even if Texas Republicans insist the English-language version of the poster was implied, that’s not what the law says. And if there’s one thing we know about conservatives, it’s that they’re huge fans of strict constructionism. We shouldn’t assume anything that’s not literally written into the law.
Stevens told me last night he sees it the same way:
I would presume if Texas wanted to rule out Arabic, [Farsi], or hell even binary, they should have written that into SB-797… Score is 30-love Chaz. Your move Austin.
Stevens is accepting donations for this particular plan here—he’s selling an NFT as well, with all proceeds helping a Texas non-profit—and he’s already ordered 50 Arabic-language posters at a cost of $1,236.05. It’s not clear where in Texas the atheist will be sending his Arabic “In God We Trust” signs. But knowing him, he’s not about to keep them in storage either.
Update: The sign has been updated to the one below. I’ve updated the feature image to this post as well.