A Florida artist on Thursday shipped the first of a batch of signs that bear the words “In God We Trust” in Arabic calligraphy to a Texas Republican who authored a bill requiring public schools to display donated signs containing the phrase. Photo courtesy of Chaz Stevens
Sept. 2 (UPI) — A Florida artist on Thursday shipped the first of a batch of signs that bear the words “In God We Trust” in Arabic calligraphy to a Texas Republican who authored a bill requiring public schools to display donated signs containing the phrase.
Senate Bill 797, written by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, was passed by the Texas legislature and went into effect last year.
The law requires public elementary and secondary schools to display “in a conspicuous place in each building of the school” a durable poster with the national motto if it was donated to the school.
Chaz Stevens, an artist and activist, told UPI in an interview that his idea to challenge the law with art came to him while he was biking along a beach in Fort Lauderdale last week.
Stevens, 57, has a documented history of performance art activism having previously made headlines for an installation of an 8-foot-tall Festivus pole made from Pabst beer cans next to a nativity scene near the Florida State Capitol in December 2013.
He later put up a similar pole, wrapped in an upside-down American flag and topped with a Make America Great Again hat, in protest of the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
“Eight days ago, I’m biking on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. I saw this thing because I’m an atheist and don’t believe in any of this religious stuff, it’s all Harry Potter to me,” Stevens said.
“I was thinking about Texas and what they’re doing and was thinking Texas is trying to out-Florida Florida.”
He said sweat was dripping into his eyes while he was biking and he stopped and realized that the Texas lawmakers did not write into the law that the signs had to be in English.
“It had all of these gotchas, it can’t have any symbols, it can’t have any this and it can’t have any that. But they never said it had to be in English,” Stevens said.
“My thought was, how do I design a piece that’s creative that’s pretty? My art talent is limited. You’re never going to confuse me with Matisse. I understand that, so I play with art in my ballpark.”He said his “winning game plan” was to make the signs with Arabic script because the text “is pretty” and would anger politicians in Texas.
Stevens said he first turned to Google Translate and turned out a sign that had “In God We Trust” in Google’s Arabic script, or at least he thought. From that, he drew his own calligraphy based on the sign he made using the Google Translate script.
“I got blasted by people on Reddit, by people in the Middle East, by trolls, commenters, and hot takers. They said, rightly so, that my Google Translate blew,” Stevens said.
He said he had put the motto into Google Translate but that it had apparently come back as “In God We Trusted,” changing the meaning of the text.
Stevens said he then turned to the gig-finding platform Upwork and hired three different translators, including a man in Pakistan, a Palestinian man, and a woman in the United Arab Emirates, which he paid for using funds he raised on GoFundMe for the project.
He also hired a calligraphy artist in Pakistan to remake the script on the sign, who also drew the text in Hebrew, Vulcan, Klingon and other languages.
“That Arabic sign has now been fixed. They were super nice to me and explained it to me. I am willing to learn from experts, that’s why they’re experts,” Stevens said.
He said that the original batch of signs he spent $1,200 on printing have now ended up in the “blooper bin” but that he will keep one as a reminder of the learning experience.
Stevens said he has since received the first batch of corrected signs and shipped the first one with overnight postage to Hughes, who authored the bill. He also plans to put up a billboard with an LGBTQ Pride version in Hughes’ hometown and others around the Lone Star State.
The artist said that it would be “excellent” if Texas has to change the law to add that the motto has to be in English.
“That just shows that they would be making their situation worse,” Stevens said, adding that if they have to come up with a new bill that the text has to be in English, it “shows that one stupid idiot in Boca Raton can control the state of Texas.”
Stevens said that he can “thoroughly see this going to court.”
“We’re not going to send a quarter of a million dollars on signs. We’re going to spend a quarter of a million dollars on legislation,” Stevens said.
Earlier this week, the Carroll Independent School District in the affluent Dallas suburb of Southlake rejected one of Stevens’ signs donated by parent Sravan Krishna, The Dallas Morning News reported.
“We will have to look at what remedies we have so we don’t get excluded from our public schools,” Krishna told The Dallas Morning News. “We deserve to be included in these efforts as well.”
The school board president said that the posters were declined because the district had already accepted signs donated to them in English by a conservative group.
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