A Red, White, and Blue Gift

A framed American flag with the words “In God We Trust” was donated to the Lakota Local School District on Jan. 9, 2023 by Michael Connaughton, who worked with the In God We Trust Project, a group that donates flags to schools.


Maddie Behrmann

Michael Connaughton presents the board with a framed flag.

Martha Makabu, Staff Contributor


Lakota East and West High Schools were each gifted a framed flag, both with the motto “In God We Trust” by the In God We Trust Project, an organization to “put God back into Ohio schools,” according to the group’s website.

The flag that was placed at East was presented to the Lakota School Board at the Jan. 9 board meeting by Dan Regenold, owner of the In God We Trust Project, Frame USA, and EmpowerU. The podium was then given to the donor of the East flag, Michael Connaughton, who paid for the flag and explained why he donated it to the Lakota District. 

“With all the turmoil going on in the world today, I think it is so important that we inject God and patriotism back into our schools,” said Connaughton during the Jan. 9 meeting. 

The audience expressed varied emotions to this statement and Connaughton continued, stating, “When I was in school in second grade, they took prayer out of public schools: not a good move.”

Maddie Behrmann
Michael Connaughton takes the podium at the Jan. 9 board meeting.

Dan Regenold has stated that the picture frame was one of the four that was designed for the In God We Trust Project. Connaughton picked the particular design from those four to donate to the school district.

The frame donated at the board meeting was placed in East High School. East Principal Robert Burnside told Spark the framed flag was sent to AP Government teacher Tisha Grote’s classroom for display. Grote received the flag along with a note from the Central Office explaining that the flag was added to her room.

“We felt like that was just the most appropriate place for it to be displayed. It made sense for the flag– a nice framed flag to be in a room where students are taking government,” Burnside said. 

Grote has since used the flag as an example in class when teaching students about the relationship between state versus religion.

A second donor donated a frame that was placed into West High School. West Principal Ben Brown declined to comment on the flag’s placement at West after numerous attempts to contact him. Burnside confirmed that identical flags were placed in social studies classrooms at both high schools per Central Office instructions. 

Per Ohio Revised Code 3313.801, Lakota Local School District is required to display National Motto frames in an auditorium, cafeteria, or classroom. School districts in Ohio are only required to accept one, but they can accept more if they choose.

“The In God We Trust Project has created the images and frames that have been sent out to schools,” Regenold told Spark. “Any framing business could have chosen to produce these frames.”

Regenold stated that the In God We Trust Project is an initiative that was started by EmpowerU to inform students and others about religion in school. Founded by Dan Regenold, EmpowerU is a free conservative university. 

“EmpowerU decided to start the mission as a means of helping educate public schools about the motto, the importance of God in the founding of our county, and also as a means of trying to do something positive for the students in Ohio,” Regenold said.

EmpowerU stems from different grassroots, including the Media Accountability Project (MAP). MAP’s website states that its goal is to “influence local news outlets to incorporate conservative views into their reporting – especially in cities where no conservative news source exists.”

Another grassroots group that is associated with EmpowerU is Stop Critical Race Theory in Ohio, whose website states they prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory and the teaching of concepts that present any race as inherently deserving of presence. 

EmpowerU has seven board members, none of which hold qualifications in education.

Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts Gerad Huiskamp says that everyone engages in political socialization, the immersion of oneself in a social sphere in which one acquires political views, especially in schools.

“Patriotic education is not foreign to the American schooling system. [Pledging the Allegiance is] something you do every day,” Huiskamp told Spark. “During times of crises, we stray away from our values, and it’s common, but that does not mean we should not be concerned about overreach.”

America has historically faced the problem of separating church and state. In the Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale 370 U.S. 421 (1962), the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayers in public schools violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

“[The framed flag] does challenge conventional notions of separating church and state, although there are conservatives who say that separation of church and state does not mean the abolishment of religion from public life,” Huiskamp said.

With Lakota Local School District enrolling more than 17,400 students, it has 40% multicultural diversity throughout the school district, as stated on the Lakota website.

Lakota parent Kate Bredestege told Spark that she understands that Lakota had a legal obligation to accept and hang the flag, but she felt the diversity of the district wasn’t being reflected well enough.

“I honestly think it is a narrow-weighted law considering it does not really account for all religions, which is not really practical,” Bredestege told Spark. “I do realize that unfortunately schools do not have a choice but to follow the law. It would be awesome if people would consider putting other types of religious mottos.” 

Regenold states that the overall goal of the In God We Trust Project is to help bring the importance of God back into the school system.

“We are trying to do this by explaining to kids in the schools the importance of God in the founding of our Country,” Regenold said. “That is why each frame that is shipped comes with a history of the motto. We are not proposing prayer meetings for religion of any type.”  

The history of the In God We Trust Project, as stated on their website, is that President Eisenhower signed a law officially declaring “In God We Trust” to be the nation’s motto in 1956. 

Professor Huiskamp showcases British philosopher Edmund Burke’s words, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” 

“We pledge our love to the country not because of blood and soil, nor because of primordial trials to the land. We are a nation of immigrants, largely except for Native Americans,” Huiskamp said. “What we love are the ideas of our country’s freedom of equality and justice. We should expect that if you love your country when your country is falling in its foundational values, then people should speak up.”