A Florida Sheriff's Department is facing backlash after proudly announcing it will be stamping the words "In God We Trust" on the back of all its police cars. Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey says the move is part of an effort to make his police cruisers more patriotic (the new decals also include an American flag).
However, the initiative is not off to a great start. Ivey's announcement quickly caught the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which promptly filed a complaint. The FFRF calls the decal "inappropriate and exclusionary" as it seems to imply that law enforcement is endorsing the Christian interpretation of God and perhaps even acting on His behalf.
"Statements about a god have no place on government-owned cars," said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Further, in a time when citizens nationwide are increasingly distrustful of law enforcement officers' actions, it is frightening and politically dubious for the local police department to announce to citizens that officers rely on the judgment of a deity, rather than on the judgment of the law."
Guided by the Light
However, Sheriff Ivey insists the words are intended to be inspirational and are not meant as a religious statement. After all, he points out, "In God We Trust" is a national motto found in many public places, including in our schools and on our currency.
And so far, the local community is backing him. Plans to include a waving U.S. flag on the front doors seem to have won hearts and minds, particularly of veterans. Ivey says he has the law behind him as well, pointing to a past court ruling which determined the motto "is of a patriotic or ceremonial character, and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."
But Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia took that reasoning a step further, arguing that placing an "In God We Trust" decal on patrol cars "will measurably lower crime rates in Brevard County."
One Motto to Rule Them All
Although the Founding Fathers declared the first national motto to be 'E Pluribus Unum' (Out of many, One) in 1782, another version emerged during the following century. 'In God We Trust' was first minted on coins in 1864 as the Treasury Secretary's response to heightened religious sentiment during the Civil War. However, it wasn't adopted as an official national motto until 1956 under President Dwight Eisenhower.
Despite numerous legal challenges on the grounds of respecting the separation of church and state, that national motto has continued to endure on the basis that "God" despite its singular nature and capitalization does not refer to any one specific god, nor endorse any one specific religion.
Not Going Down Without a Fight
For officials in Brevard County, this is about more than just a motto, though it's about the very fabric of our nation.
"They have a better chance of me waking up thin tomorrow morning than they do of me taking that motto off our cars!" Sheriff Ivey, a heavy-set man, told Fox News. "I personally believe that our country is at a tipping point, and if we, as strong patriotic Americans, don't stand for the principals of our great nation, we are going to lose the America we all know and love!"
Since the sheriff is refusing to back down, this case could be destined for the courts. Where do you stand on the issue? Do religious messages even if they're baked in tradition belong on official government vehicles? Or would the citizens of Brevard County be better served by an entirely secular fleet of law enforcement cruisers?