“In God We Trust” wasn’t Florida’s motto until the 2000’s and two kids were responsible for noticing.
Did you know two 10-year-olds are to thank for making Florida’s state motto official?
In our weekly Florida history column, Florida Time, we encourage readers to send columnist Eliot Kleinberg an email or leave him a voicemail at (850) 270-8418 with their piece of Florida history. That’s exactly what former state senator Michael S. Bennett did.
In his email to Eliot, Bennett wrote, “As you are aware, Florida became a state in 1845. Some time after that, the Florida flag started with the motto, ‘In God We Trust.’ That [phrase] was on the state seal, carved in the capitol rotunda and was on my Florida Senate letterhead.”
Bennett explained that even though the “motto” had been everywhere, on everything, it was not official.
In 2005, two Florida fourth graders, who asked not to be named in this story, were given an assignment to research a state designation. The students chose to learn more about their home state’s motto.
While researching, one of the students landed on the state’s official website, where no designation of Florida’s motto was found.
“He panicked,” the student’s mother said in a phone interview. “He thought his teacher would give him an F. He told me ‘I can’t turn that in.’”
Even though the words were engraved on the rotunda of the state capitol building, “In God We Trust” was technically never designated as the state’s motto.
“[The students] reported to the teacher, ‘Florida does not have a motto,’” Bennett continued in his email. “The teacher told them to do some more research which they [did].”
The students still weren't able to find any evidence of when the state motto passed on a bill or became official. According to Bennett, the teacher gave the duo a failing grade.
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“Thus when they came to me, I looked at the flag in my office, looked at my letterhead, my Florida Senate ring and I said I would help them with their error,” Bennett wrote.
The curious senator asked his staff to follow up with their own research and, to his surprise, they reported that Florida had never adopted its own motto -- far from the state’s first blooper.
He made a deal with the kids. He would write a letter to their teacher stating their findings were correct, and he’d ask for legislation to make “In God We Trust” the state motto once and for all -- if the fourth graders would agree to present a bill in front of the Senate's committee.
The students and their parents agreed. A bill was filed, and in 2005, the motto was officially adopted.
“It passed faster than I’ve ever seen a bill pass,” the mother of one of the students said. “Two fourth grade students changed the law and I always say, it proves that if you get involved, do your research and put your mind to something, you can achieve anything.”
The students were able to visit Governor Jeb Bush’s private office with their parents after the bill passed. They are now college graduates.