The Texas lawmaker who sponsored the bill requiring public schools to display donated “In God We Trust” posters has finally realized there are massive loopholes in the law, including one that could allow signs in Arabic, and he’s desperately trying to fix a problem of his own creation. It’s not the first time he hasn’t anticipated the obvious consequences of his bills.
A quick recap: Last year, Texas State Sen. Bryan Hughes proposed S.B. 797, which said public schools “must” display a durable poster or framed copy of the U.S. motto “in a conspicuous place”… as long as it was donated or purchased by outside groups. In other words, no taxpayer money would be used to do this. The posters were required to have the words “In God We Trust” on top, the U.S. flag underneath them (and centered), and a Texas flag elsewhere on the poster.
That was it.
Even though the law went into effect last year, it wasn’t until this month that people began taking it seriously, with Christian nationalist groups like Patriot Mobile sending several posters to schools across the state.
Atheist activist Chaz Stevens, however, recognized one of the mistakes in the law: It never said the motto had to be written in English. So he began raising funds to mail out his own Arabic-language posters:
Stevens wasn’t alone. A Texas-based activist named Sravan Krishna, working with the Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition and the Texas Bipartisan Alliance, offered to donate his own Arabic-language sign as well as another with the word “God” in rainbow colors.
Other signs that were being discussed included ones with a rainbow background.
On Monday night, however, the board president of the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas rejected those variations, saying that they already had enough donated signs for all the schools in the district and were therefore not obligated to take any of the other ones.
But that whole kerfuffle raised a couple of important questions:
- Are Texas schools obligated to display all donated posters that meet the law’s requirements?
- If “In God We Trust” is written in Arabic (or any other language), does it meet the law’s requirements?
There’s no clarity on that. Normally we would have to wait for a school district to reject a poster and for the designer to then file a lawsuit in order to get a definitive ruling on these issues.
But Bryan Hughes is now trying to fix the problems he created.
In a letter to the state’s Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Hughes elaborates on his intentions. He says that the wording of the law requires posters to say “In God We Trust” in English because that’s the way it’s written in the law itself. He also says the law requires schools to display “a durable poster or framed copy.” Did you catch that? “A.” Singular. So even if multiple posters are donated, schools only have to display one of them.
Hughes also says that schools are permitted to put up other posters, like Arabic-language ones, if they want. But that’s separate from the English-language one it’s required to put up if one is donated. There’s your olive branch, everyone.
There’s serious irony in a conservative Republican basically saying we should ignore the literal phrasing in the law and instead accept whatever he claims his intentions were. It’s not exactly what you’d expect from the party of “strict constructionism.”
It’s also comical, in a dark humor sort of way, because Hughes has a habit of not thinking through his proposed legislation.
In this case, he didn’t anticipate the obvious loopholes.
Last year, Hughes sponsored another bill requiring teachers to offer multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” topics. It led one administrator to tell teachers they needed to present an alternative perspective on the Holocaust.
Hughes had to clarify that’s not what he meant:
“That’s not what the bill says,” Hughes said in an interview Wednesday when asked about the Carroll book guidelines. “I’m glad we can have this discussion to help elucidate what the bill says, because that’s not what the bill says.”
(He’s wrong. The bill included no definition of what constituted a “controversial” topic.)
Hughes also sponsored a bill banning the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” in the classroom… even though no one was teaching it. More specifically, the bill prohibited teachers from discussing “a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” It was widely understood that the law was meant to downplay the teaching of slavery and racism.
Once again, Hughes tried to clarify the situation:
“That bill is not an attempt to sanitize or to teach our history in any other way than the truth — the good, the bad and the ugly — and those difficult things that we’ve been through and those things we’ve overcome,” Hughes said. “No one is saying that we don’t have systemic racism. But what we’re saying is, we’ve made a lot of progress. We have a long way to go. But the way to get there is to come together as Americans.”
If what he said was true, then there was no need to propose a bill to change what teachers were already doing. Hughes passed a bill full of dog whistles then acted shocked when people began blowing them.
A good politician would’ve thought through the consequences of his bills.
Then again, a good politician would never have proposed these awful bills in the first place.
In his desperate attempt to enforce conservative Christian beliefs on everyone in Texas, Hughes has been making one sloppy mistake after another.
As far as the “In God We Trust” posters go, though, it still seems like Chaz Stevens’ Arabic-language posters would have to go up in schools if he can get them to districts that have no other donated signs so far. He’s raising funds to send them out far and wide and taking requests for where to mail them.
In a statement to me last night, Stevens made clear he wasn’t going to stop fighting:
It looks like the big tough Texas lawmaker, who rammed through CRT and racist nonsense, has done gotten himself out-trolled by a Florida mischief maker.
Sen. Hughes can say anything he wants… he can have all his intentions … hell, I intend to date Paris Hilton… but in the end, he wrote the law, just not a good one. And it’s come home to bite him in the tush.
Bless his heart.
We’re likely bound for Court. Excellent, game on! Keep those donations flowing people, I’ve got a legal team to hire, and a Texas lawmaker to mock, ridicule, and scorn.
Stevens has already designed posters in Vulcan, Hindi, and Hebrew, and he plans to put up billboards in the near future.
He’s raised over $42,000 in these pursuits as of this writing.