SEAGRAVES, Texas — Police Chief Scott McAuley is satisfied with the new additions to his agency’s sport utility patrol vehicles.
A Wisconsin-based organization promoting the separation of church and state is less pleased.
The Seagraves Police Department is one of the latest U.S. law enforcement agencies to put decals with the words “In God We Trust” onto the tailgates of its vehicles. McAuley defends the motto as a great spirit-booster for his six officers, who agreed on it together.
“The slogan itself has raised the morale of our men,” he said. “This was a decision made by all of us.”
He also considers it a good response to the negative publicity law enforcement has faced the past couple years. He hopes it will remind Seagraves residents the officers who serve them still depend on faith.
“We want people to understand we’re people too, and it’s our national motto,” he said. “It alone builds trust.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation opposes “In God We Trust” mottos on law enforcement vehicles, attorney Madeline Ziegler said.
Ziegler, a legal fellow for the group, told A-J Media she had not been aware Seagraves had begun the practice. When the foundation receives complaints about other police and sheriff’s departments across the country, it sends them letters requesting they remove the mottos. Staff typically offer to send “In Reason We Trust” bumper stickers officers can post in lieu of the religious mottos.
“If they’re not going to take them down they should at least have the other side’s viewpoints supported,” she said. “I would challenge them to think about how they’d feel if every police vehicle in their town said ‘We trust in no God,’ or ‘In Allah we Trust.’ ”
The foundation points to the First Amendment in its opposition to the “God” slogans.
“It excludes atheists and agnostics and anyone else who doesn’t believe in one god,” Ziegler said. “The Constitution says the government cannot promote religion, and that’s exactly what these police departments and sheriff’s departments are doing when they post ‘In God We Trust’ on theirs.”
But McAuley notes the slogan can be found in many other American venues, including currency.
“It can’t be unconstitutional — it’s on our money, it’s on the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said.
Social Media Reaction
In Childress, the Freedrom From Religion Foundation has criticized the similar “In God We Trust” mottos adorning that town’s patrol cruisers.
Drawing more than 160,000 likes, Chief of Police Adrian Garcia posted his response on Facebook:
“After carefully reading your letter I must deny your request in the removal of our Nations motto from our patrol units, and ask that you and the Freedom from Religion Foundation go fly a kite.”
Seagraves’ cop car-addition proceeded through the City Council without contention, and A-J Media has not learned of any local opposition.
Most of the criticism received so far has come from out-of-state residents commenting on social media, McAuley observed. He continues to defend the stickers, and has no plans to remove them.
“We’ve had people tell us it’s un-American. Well, it’s our national motto. It doesn’t get more American than this,” he said.
State Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Drew Springer issued a joint statement in support of the Childress Police Department.
“I stand firmly with Chief Adrian Garcia and the Childress Police Department as they protect their right to display ‘In God We Trust’ on patrol cars,” said Perry, a Lubbock Republican. “We live in a country with a rich history of celebrating faith and honoring religious liberty. It is un-American to suggest a police department should not be allowed to display our national motto.”
Springer, a Republican from Muenster, said, “Our law enforcement officers work hard to keep our communities safe and deserve our support, not demands like this.
We are in the middle of a spiritual battle in America right now, with the issue of religious liberty front and center. I am proud of Childress Police Department for standing strong.”