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An activist plans to test Texas' 'In God We Trust' law with signs in Arabic

A prototype of the "In God We Trust" poster written in Arabic created by Chaz Stevens.
Chaz Stevens
A prototype of the "In God We Trust" poster written in Arabic created by Chaz Stevens.

There are those who heed the warning "don't mess with Texas," and then there are those who do the exact opposite.

Activist Chaz Stevens is in the second group.

He's taking on a Texas law that requires public schools to display signs and posters with the national motto "In God We Trust" in "conspicuous places." The law requires that the signs were either donated or purchased from private donations to the school.

Stevens, who lives in Florida and is known for his petitions to local governments, heard of the law about a week ago and told NPR he was irritated by the move to bring religion — in this case, Christianity — into schools.

"That should be irritating for you, regardless of what God or not-God you believe in," he said.

As far as he could tell, there was no requirement that the motto be written in English. He decided to start a fundraising campaign to send posters to schools around the state with the motto written in Arabic instead.

Chaz Stevens.
Brendan Farrington / AP
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AP
Chaz Stevens.

"They didn't say anything about language," Stevens said. "And as an artist, it's always art forward for me. So I thought, well, know what looks good ... and then it occurred to me that Arabic is beautiful."

He said his goal with this campaign is the same as with his previous endeavors.

"It's simple — it's empowering hypocrisy itself, turning bureaucracies against themselves, figuring out what the bureaucratic hypocrisy is," Stevens said.

The Texas law passed during the last legislative session

The law was passed last summer. At the time, there were more concerns about the pandemic than the signs – and only now are more being donated, The Texas Tribune reports.

Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes authored the bill and has shared updates as groups have started making donations to different districts and schools.

The law requires the posters or signs to be donated or "purchased from private donations," and the U.S. flag and Texas state flag must be represented on the poster as well. It "may not depict any words, images, or other information."

Though the law does not mention English being the only language that can be displayed, Hughes responded to news of Stevens' campaign.

"Read the bill. Sign must contain "In God We Trust" US flag, Texas flag and "may not depict" any other words or images," Hughes wrote. "Print what you like, but only these signs qualify under the law."

Despite that, Stevens is continuing with his plan. In less than a week, he has raised more than $18,000 and counting to fund the purchase of the signs.

He said overall the response has been "wildly supportive."

Stevens is expanding the design to include more languages

The feedback from the public also led Stevens to broaden his design. He plans to include Spanish, Hindi and other languages. To ensure he has the translations right, Stevens said he is hiring translators in each language.

There's still some design work to be done, but Stevens is hopeful his posters will start arriving at schools in Texas in the next two to three weeks.

Other organizations -- including the Yellow Rose Texas Republican Women group and Patriot Mobile, which calls itself a Christian conservative wireless service provider — have donated posters printed in English to schools outside of Houston as well as in the Dallas metropolitan area.

Stevens said he doesn't have a list of specific schools in mind, but he's aiming to send the signs to politically liberal and conservative areas.

"If I send out 500 signs, I expect 98% of them not to go up. And that's a win for me," Stevens said. "Maybe two out of a hundred go up on a wall. And I wanted the two. ... It proves the point."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 26, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story said that Stevens got a callout from Quentin Tarantino. In fact, he got a callout from Tarantino parody account.