A Missouri Sheriff’s Department drew attention last month by placing “In God We Trust” stickers on all the department’s vehicles. The response seems to have inspired other law enforcement offices to declare their own religious leanings.
NBCI4 quotes a Kentucky sheriff actually crediting the controversy for inspiring him to add similar stickers to his own department’s vehicles.
“I would’ve done it before, but I never realized that was something that we could do.”
Meanwhile, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent cease-and-desist letters to some counties where citizens have complained that the stickers are divisive and send a message of exclusion. According to the Washingont Post, the Foundation’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, has pointed out that the stickers are privately funded, and that this doesn’t lessen the problem, but makes it more stark, demonstrating that the people behind the actions knew better than to have government-funded displays of religion.
“The fact that these stickers were privately funded indicates that you know it is inappropriate for the government to fund religious statements.”
An opinion piece in the Daily Herald most clearly demonstrates, though, why “In God We Trust” isn’t likely to be stripped from the cars by legal action.
“The words ‘In God We Trust’ are on U.S. currency, which we as Americans work hard for and don’t seem to mind using. We sing the phrase at ball games and other public events regularly (it’s in this country’s national anthem.) “In God We Trust” was actually adopted as America’s motto in 1956.”
In Halifax County, North Carolina, the Sheriff’s Department has gone a step farther. They have reportedly added the same “In God We Trust” stickers to their cars as many other departments, but Sheriff Wes Tripp has also added the phrase to his business cards and attaches a photo of said card to many of his Facebook posts, making it clear to the public that he’s standing firm on keeping “In God We Trust” as a part of his department. You can see the card reproduced below, with contact information redacted.
You can also see below an example of the type of post on which the Sheriff displays his trust in God via his business card. (It isn’t clear if these, unlike the bumper stickers, are funded by taxpayers.)
Though the First Amendment has generally been interpreted to mean that government agencies (such as these departments) cannot express a preference for one religion over others or religion over nonreligion (as these stickers appear to do), “In God We Trust” has been upheld several times by courts as having “a secular purpose” as a national motto and thus being within legal bounds. At the moment, there are no declared lawsuits, only polite requests for removal out of respect for nonreligious and non-Christian citizens, but if one should ensue, there is a better than even chance that the “In God We Trust” stickers would be allowed to remain.
[Photo via Stone County Sheriff’s Office]