Editor Note: We’d love to hear your thoughts – do the words “In God We Trust” belong on police cars? Send us your perspective in the form at the bottom of the article.
The debate is over. One point, God.
After heated controversy, the city council in Bakersfield, California voted on Wednesday to add “In God We Trust” decals to both police and fire vehicles.
“I love the motto,” said Councilmember Jacquie Sullivan. “It’s meaningful. It’s powerful. Those words are intended to encourage.”
U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who represents Bakersfield, was thrilled.
“Displaying ‘In God We Trust’ — the official motto of the United States — on Bakersfield Police Department cars is a testament to each officer’s commitment to upholding the rule of law and defending the City of Bakersfield and its residents,” he said.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union were ripping mad, and showed up at the city council meeting to fight the proposal and call it bad public policy.
“Unlike God, police officers are fallible,” ACLU lawyer Jordan Wells said. “Their conduct should be scrutinized by the public, and when they overstep their authority, we must insist on accountability.”
One council member, Andrae Gonzales, voted against the decals despite claiming he is Christian.
“The God I believe in is much bigger than a bumper sticker,” he said.
Last month, the same proposal was approved by city council members in nearby Delano. They also voted to add “In God We Trust” to police vehicles.
Next month, the city of Shafter, which borders Bakersfield, is expected to vote on a similar proposal.
In Bakersfield, it started when Pastor Angelo Frazier of Riverlakes Community Church asked the Bakersfield City Council to put the nation’s motto on the city’s police department vehicles.
There were heated opinions on both sides as the city council listened to people weighing in on the pastor’s proposal.
“My concern is that if we don’t move forward in this, then I believe one day, that ‘In God We Trust’ will come down,” the pastor said.
Jennifer Bloomquist, the founder of the Atheist Society of Kern, was adamantly against it.
“Once again, I oppose adding ‘In God We Trust’ to Bakersfield police vehicles and I also see ‘In God We Trust’ in the chambers and I don’t feel welcomed here,” she said.
Pastor Frazier has lived in the city for close to 30 years. He has also been a volunteer chaplain with the BPD for almost 20.
“One of the things I see a consistency, because we have it in our courts and everything, police officers are an extension of our courts,” Frazier said.
It’s a debate that’s hit Bakersfield before.
In 2002, Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan brought a “yes” vote to displaying the nation’s motto inside the council chambers.
Then in 2004, she organized a nonprofit encouraging elected officials in cities and counties across the country to follow Bakersfield’s lead – it’s called “In God We Trust America”.
“Bakersfield, California, is the founding city of this very active campaign that’s going across the country,” Sullivan said. “There’s a new interest and appreciation for our national motto.”
The debate hasn’t been limited to Bakersfield… it’s come up across the country, with a number of law enforcement agencies voting to display decals and bumpers stickers carrying the motto on cars driven by police officers, sheriff deputies and firefighters.
But there are those who argue that displaying “In God We Trust” infringes on the First Amendment.
“It’s an inherently religious statement and not every single one of our police officers is religious,” said Bloomquist. “They don’t believe in a single God. They might believe in a Goddess or multiple Gods or none at all.”
In June, the council will vote on it. It’s unclear how members are currently leaning.
In March, we had someone message Law Enforcement Today who was fuming mad about seeing the words “In God We Trust” on a police cruiser in Texas.
Here’s the message they sent us:
Law Enforcement Today:
I was driving through Texas today and saw the words “In God We Trust” on a cruiser on the highway. I’m not sure if your company oversees police unions, but I figured I should start by reaching out to you.
God is a fairytale. He doesn’t exist. Having these four words on the police means you can’t trust the police seriously, because they obviously perpetuate lies.
It’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state. It’s offensive to me and because it’s offensive to me, it’s obviously offensive to others and it needs to be removed.
It devalues the police. It devalues what they stand for. It shows they only protect people who also share their same warped beliefs.
Please pass this along. In God We Trust doesn’t belong on police cars.
I weighed in with the following letter to Joe:
I’m going to preface this by telling you I’m a proud Christian. I want to clear the air on that in advance. I’m of the belief that everything I have in life is because of God, who was so kind and merciful that He gave His only son for us. I pray daily, and I’ll be praying for you tonight.
Now that we have that out of the way, I’m going to set aside my faith for a minute in hopes we can try and find some common ground. Because clearly that’s not going to happen on the God topic, and that’s ok – I believe that as a Christian, I’m called to be a fisher of men… not just a fisher of other fishermen.
In 2015, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion on the topic you wrote to us about. He said that police cars showing the motto in his state are not a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment clause.
“A court is likely to conclude that a law enforcement department’s display of the national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ on its patrol vehicles is permissible under the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution,” Paxton said, citing a long list of court decisions.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been fighting the displays. Prior to Paxton’s statement, they’d already sent letters to more than 60 police departments around the country asking them to stop the practice of displaying “In God we trust”.
Now let’s talk about your argument that it “devalues” police and means you can’t “trust” them.
If I handed you cash, would you spit in my face?
Would you tell me that my money was worthless? That the cash held no value? That you couldn’t trust it to make a purchase?
Here’s the thing, Joe. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed Public Law 84-140, which was passed by Congress.
That law directed the Treasury to use “In God We Trust” on money. But that’s not all. Congress also said in a joint resolution, Public Law 84-851, that “the national motto of the United States is hereby declared to be ‘In God we trust.’”
It’s gone to court. And in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York City, said that the use of the phrase “In God We Trust” on American currency was constitutionally permissible in the case of Newdow v. United States.
Who brought that suit? Attorney Michael Newdow, on behalf of 11 atheists and humanists and two organizations.
Newdow was made famous in 2002 when he won a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (who anyone with a brain recognizes as the looney bin of courts) that struck the words “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Supreme Court later overturned that insanity.
Newdow failed miserably. The Second Circuit shot down his argument that the words violated the First Amendment’s Establishment and the Free Exercise clauses, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
“We have never addressed the question of whether the inclusion of the words ‘In God We Trust’ on United States currency violates the Constitution or [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] and write today to clarify the law on this issue,” the opinion states. “Four other circuit courts have ruled on this question, however, and have found that the statutes at issue do not contravene the Constitution.”
Now Joe, listen, I get it. Words are scary. But in my experience, sometimes words are scary because they make us look deep into ourselves and we don’t like what we see.
My guess is that you’re afraid of not just those words, and not just police, but the idea that by recognizing that God exists means you have to recognize that some things are just outside of our control.
That’s how it is for police officers. While I’d never suggest they are all men and women of faith… I’d suggest that they’re willing to recognize that they do not have control over everything in this world.
That their own safety and protection is sometimes not in their hands.
Joe, I’ve been blessed to interview countless cops over the years.
Through tears, Micah recounted the day he responded to a 9-1-1 call and found a young boy accidentally hanging in the shower on a Soap-On-A-Rope.
The grandfather was crying desperately. It was the first time the boy’s parents had gone on a date in years… because his mom was terrified something bad would happen if they did.
Danny told me about the body of the baby he found. He also shared the story about running into a burning building – as a police officer and without fire gear – to save the lives of children. Danny is a father.
Brandon told me about the guy he caught on the way to kidnap, torture and murder his pregnant girlfriend.
Jesse told me about the day a terrorist shot him at point blank range through his patrol car window while he sat at a red light.
For so many… it’s all too easy to allow the darkness in the world to take over.
But we need to remember that those who hold the Thin Blue Line are those who fight to keep that evil and that darkness at bay.
Not all of them pray. But for the many that do… their prayers are fierce. And often selfless.
When they pray for safety… they are asking God to bring them home to their loved ones so that spouses aren’t widowed and children aren’t burying a parent.
They are praying for the recovery of victims.
They are praying for strength to get out of bed every day. To turn off the TV when the media paints them in a negative spotlight. When protestors demand the removal of “pigs” and “killers”.
They are thanking God for the stranger who bought them a coffee or for the opportunity to have saved a life or even just touched one that day.
They are asking for patience. For clarity. For support in the battle against the demons of post-traumatic stress that they and their brothers and sisters face.
When someone who isn’t a police officer is in church, they have the luxury of focusing on the service. The music. The family.
Our Sheepdog don’t have that luxury. Because they are often thinking about the unseen threat facing their parish. Their family. Their community.
Yes, chances are the police officer that drives those police cruisers you’ve seen puts their trust in God. But there are no guarantees.
And because there are no guarantees, perhaps it’s worth considering putting your own trust in God.
After all, I’d rather put trust in God and end up being right when I die… then NOT put my trust in God and end up being wrong.
Remember, Joe – you can always look the other way when you see something you think is wrong, like big scary words. But our officers will never look away when they see something they think is wrong… and neither will He.
In God We Trust.
Kyle S. Reyes
National Spokesman, Law Enforcement Today