‘In God We Trust’ Police Car Bumper Sticker Reignites the Debate of Church and State

Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed complaints on a dozen Law Enforcement Agencies requesting the removal of the religious messages from publicly financed vehicles.

Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed complaints on a dozen Law Enforcement Agencies, stating “Spending taxpayer time placing religious messages on patrol cars is beyond the scope of secular government.”

Decals declaring “In God We Trust” are being placed on police patrol vehicles in a growing number of departments across the country.  This trend has reignited the debate over whether references to religion belong on government property.    

The origins of the trend remain murky, although a local news report from Mississippi dating back to March discusses Alcorn County Sherriff Charles Rinehart’s decision to have the motto placed on a department SUV while at the mechanic for routine maintenance.

"We just got it fixed and we put ‘In God We Trust' on the front of it,” said Sherriff Reinhart, adding it is a reminder to everyone what law enforcement stands for, and who they look to for protection.   

The phrase – and official motto of the United States since 1956 – began popping up on patrol vehicles in states like Missouri, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and other places throughout the summer.

Public reaction to “In God We Trust” being placed on government vehicles has been varied. While many in the local communities are very supportive, others have called actions of the police departments a clear violation of the barrier between church and state.  Scattered protests and have sprang up in response.

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The most vocal opponent – the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) – a secular activist group that has sent letters and filed complaints on dozens of law enforcement agencies around the country.

“Spending taxpayer time placing religious messages on patrol cars is beyond the scope of secular government,” wrote FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Further, in a time when citizens nationwide are increasingly distrustful of police actions, it is frightening and politically dubious to announce to citizens that law enforcement officers rely on the judgment of a deity rather than on the judgment of the law.”

Florida Sherriff Michael Adkinson – whose department received one of the letters from the FFRF – responded with a letter of his own by declaring, “If the Freedom From Religion Foundation wishes us to take them off our vehicles I suggest that they get a judge’s order or a new Sheriff,” adding, “I see absolutely no conflict in this matter.”

With both sides of the issue dug in, it is likely the matter will be decided in court.  FFRF co-president Dan Barker told The Blaze, “We can’t predict what we’ll do next.  Even if we wanted to sue we have to have a plaintiff,” adding, “We would love to sue over a case like this.”

However, departments with the “In God We Trust” decals have already been offered free legal defense from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) a Washington, D.C. legal group.

“Americans should not be forced to abandon their heritage simply to appease the animosity of anti-religious groups toward anything that references God,” said ADF attorney Matt Sharp, adding, “These departments should simply ignore the unfounded demands from these groups, especially since courts have upheld the national motto in a wide variety of other contexts for decades.”


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