Some Arkansas schools will display 'In God we trust' after posters donated

BENTONVILLE -- Hundreds of posters proclaiming the national motto "In God we trust" have been distributed and soon will be on display in some of Northwest Arkansas' public schools.

Act 911 of last year's legislative session requires the state's public schools to display durable posters featuring the motto, as well as the U.S. and Arkansas state flags, if the posters are donated. They may be displayed in each public elementary and secondary school classroom and library or any public building in Arkansas maintained or operated using state money.

State Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, sponsored the bill that became Act 911. Only three lawmakers voted against it.

No public dollars pay for the posters, Dotson said. He appeared at the Bentonville School Board's Feb. 19 meeting to present framed copies of the posters to board members. He announced 891 framed posters were being donated to the Bentonville School District.

The posters for Bentonville, along with 222 posters for the Pea Ridge School District, were donated by the American History and Heritage Foundation, an Arkansas-based group led by state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow. American Legion Post 77 of Bentonville raised about $1,500 for the frames, for which Hobby Lobby gave a discount, Dotson said.

Ray Brust, an American Legion member, expressed gratitude to those who contributed money for the frames.

"I and everybody that I know is very positive on this law," Brust said. "I think it's something that will help not only the atmosphere, but it's something we do need for our youth. I think everyone knows our youth are lacking in certain areas of information about the United States and what we stand for."

Leslee Wright, communications director for Bentonville schools, said the district facilities department's goal is to have all posters up by spring break.

Posters also are being donated to schools in Gravette, Gentry and Siloam Springs, Dotson said.

Rogers School District administrators said they weren't aware of any posters being donated. Dotson, however, said he dropped off 100 posters for a Republican club at Rogers High School a couple of months ago, and the Republican Party of Benton County purchased frames for those posters.

Communications directors for Springdale and Fayetteville school districts said they weren't aware of any posters donated to their districts.

Not everyone likes the law.

American Atheists, a New Jersey-based organization dedicated to the separation of church and state, sent letters in September to Arkansas school superintendents urging them to reject the posters, suggesting that displaying them would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The letter said parents from across Arkansas who were willing to file suit "to protect the constitutional rights of their children" had contacted the American Atheists Legal Center.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., also has objected to Act 911 and said it would fight it.

"The purpose behind the law is clear: to use the machinery of the state to promote Christianity," the foundation stated in a news release.

Casey Goodman expressed his displeasure at a Bentonville School Board meeting. He said he's an Air Force veteran and that his spouse works in the school district.

"You know more than half your teachers don't want that there," Goodman said.

Goodman suggested the money for the posters would be better spent for food or mental-health treatment for homeless veterans.

Dotson said people have the right to contribute money to any cause or project and reiterated that tax dollars did not pay for the posters. The "vast majority" of teachers he's heard from support the poster project, Dotson said.

Dotson is running for re-election to his District 93 House seat this year. Gan Nunnally, a Bentonville businessman, is running against him in the Republican primary, to be held May 22. Gayatri Agnew is running for the seat as a Democrat.

Dotson, when asked why he pursued the law, said he believes history and heritage are important. Many people, especially children, are not aware "In God we trust" is the national motto, he said.

"So putting it up and displaying it is something I think is very valuable," Dotson said.

Metro on 03/11/2018