The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Texas’s latest democratic backslide is of Biblical proportions

Sravan Krishna, photographed at the Carroll Independent School District building in Southlake, Tex., on Aug. 29. (Karen Attiah/The Washington Post)

SOUTHLAKE, Tex. — Under a new state law, public schools here now “must display in a conspicuous place in each building … a durable poster or framed copy of the United States national motto, ‘In God We Trust.’ ” The main requirements are that the signs must have been donated to the school, and they have to display both the U.S. and the Texas flags.

God and country, in other words. But even if you think that message is appropriate for public education (and I don’t), some follow-up questions still come up in our multicultural, faith-diverse country: In whose God do we trust?

And who’s “we,” anyway?

Sravan Krishna, a Carroll Independent School District parent in this largely White Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, decided to put the law, known as S.B. 797, to the test.

So per district rules, Krishna, who is part of a group called Dignity for All Texas Students, formally asked to be put on Monday’s school board meeting agenda. His request was denied, he told me, so he decided to show up to the meeting anyway.

After middle school students read the Pledge of Allegiance, the floor was open for public comment. Krishna was up first. He picked up a white box and brought it to the lectern for his allotted three minutes.

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First, Krishna held up a framed poster that had the word “God” in rainbow LGBT colors. He had another with “In God We Trust” written in Arabic. “I’m here today to present ... the ‘In God We Trust’ posters to the schools,” he said. “I’d like to request you to come and accept it.”

The room was silent — and the school board appeared ready for Krishna’s challenge.

Board president Cameron Bryan read from a prepared statement, thanking Krishna but noting that “In God We Trust” signs had already been donated to the district — by the avowedly Christian conservative wireless provider Patriot Mobile.

“As you may be aware,” Bryan told Krishna, “CISD accepted, as required by law, the S.B. 797 donation at the August 15 board meeting. Therefore, all 11 campuses plus the admin building now have the poster pursuant to S.B. 797.” Bryan said that the statute does “not contemplate requiring the district to display more than one copy at a time.”

Apparently, the board interpreted “a” poster to mean just “one” poster, but Krishna still had time left, and he had his answer ready. “I’m not leaving,” he said. “It doesn’t say you have to stop at one, so that is your decision to stop at one. Why is more God not good?”

“This is also our national motto,” he said, “so I think it’s kind of un-American to reject posters of our national motto.”

The room was silent and filled with tension as Krishna displayed the rest of the posters to the board. Finally, a beep sounded signaling the end of his time. “That’s my time,” he said defiantly. “I can do whatever I want with it. Deal with it.” Then he went back to his seat.

I went to the Carroll ISD meeting because the standoff there gets at the heart of the larger battle being waged in this country. As I’ve written, Texas is on the front lines of that. The people who wrote S.B. 797 know exactly what god they mean, and who “we” is intended to indicate — and who it is not. The new law is part of the reactionary, right-wing, white supremacist rot that is spreading at such an alarming pace not only here in Texas, but also around the country.

But whose vision of America is more accurate? Krishna’s posters represent God and America in the form of voices under threat — LGBTQ people and Arabic speakers — and they were not produced by wealthy businesspeople but by the Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition, a group of current and former students in the Carroll school district.

“We and the kids just want to feel included,” Krishna told me after the meeting. “We are taxpayers and voters, too.” Other meeting attendees I talked to wanted to do “In God We Trust” in Spanish and Braille, saying that it would be a true representation of the growing diversity of the Southlake community.

Why is Southlake so afraid of diversity — of more variations of God and Americanness? What is so threatening about an array of posters representing America in all its faces and forms? Carroll ISD could have set an example for inclusion and progress. Instead, its leaders are participating in a symbolic attack on democratic participation.

A storm over the posters might yet be brewing. Krishna said his organization would regroup and explore further possible remedies. Other community members wondered aloud about whether they could challenge Carroll ISD’s decision legally. Their determination is as noble as Carroll ISD’s hypocrisy is shameless and sad.

It’s the year of our Lord 2022, for goodness’ sake. We shouldn’t have to be trying to slay the old dragons of discrimination and white supremacy.