Bentonville Schools Decline To Display Posters From Atheist Group

BENTONVILLE (KFSM) — The Bentonville School District has declined to display six posters given to them by American Atheists, saying the group hasn’t provided posters that comply with a state law requiring the display of the national motto under certain circumstances.

American Atheists

Arkansas’ “In God We Trust” act requires the national motto be displayed in any public building if the poster or framed copy is donated, bears an accurate representation of the United States flag under the national motto and an accurate representation of the Arkansas state flag.

In a response Friday (Aug. 29) to American Atheists, the district’s legal representation wrote that it also declined to display the posters because of a district policy against allowing outside groups to advertise or display private messages on its walls.

“Doing so would open a limitless avalanche of such requests,” said Marshall S. Ney, a partner at the law firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark.

Ney wrote that “by adding additional wording … a logo and a website address, your organization has removed the posters from the purview of (the law),” adding that the flag wasn’t centered under the national motto.

Ney warned that displaying the flags would “lead to far more reaching negative consequences” than threatened litigation from American Atheists.

“The district is a taxpayer funded entity charged with the duty of educating students,” Ney wrote.

“It is not the proper venue to battle political and religious differences, nor should its limited funds be directed away from education and towards such battles.”

Last week, American Atheists donated six posters to the district to be displayed in compliance with the act. The New Jersey-based group was founded in 1963 to “protect the absolute separation of religion from government,” according to its website.

The posters from American Atheists include a message that “during the height of the Cold War,” the U.S. Congress added “In God We Trust” to the national motto.

The message continues with “the traditional motto of the United States, first adopted by Congress in 1782,” was E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “out of many, one.”

The posters include the American and Arkansas flags — stacked on top of each other — along with a note from American Atheists and their logo in the bottom left corner.

A spokesman for American Atheists said the group was “deeply troubled” by the district’s decision.

“(The district) is ignoring the plain language of the law and continuing to display posters that are not compliance with Act 911 while rejecting our posters that are,” said Nick Fish, National Program Director for American Atheists.

“It isn’t American Atheists who is pushing a political agenda. We’re an educational nonprofit that cares about the truth, the facts, and our nation’s history. Compare our posters up to the ones currently hanging in Bentonville’s schools and it’s pretty clear which is focused on student education.”

In February, American Legion Post 77 and the American History and Heritage Foundation donated more than 1,000 posters displaying the national motto to schools in Bentonville and Pea Ridge.

Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, sponsor of the house bill that eventually became Act 911, said it’s important Americans are aware of “our American history, our heritage, our culture.”

“Our national motto is something that is posted on many buildings, monuments throughout our country and all of our currency,” Dotson said of the donation.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also responded in February, issuing a statement that the donations impacted “parental autonomy.”

“Parents have a right to control their children’s religious upbringing,” the ACLU said.

Leslee Wright, spokeswoman for the district, reiterated that district’s focus was on education.

“Our schools should not serve as the backdrop for political agendas, regardless of the viewpoint,” Wright said.

“Our focus is student education, creativity, and growth. Discussions such as this one should be reserved for the appropriate setting.”