The latest battle over the separation of church and state might be taking place on a bumper near you.
Some police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and firefighters have been placing "In God We Trust" bumper stickers on their cars in recent weeks, sparking a debate about the appropriate relationship between church and state.
The origin of the trend is unclear, but some are crediting Green County Sheriff Jim Arnott, who placed the motto on patrol vehicles several months ago.
"I made the decision. I had been meaning to do it since taking office in 2009 and I just got around to it," Mr. Arnott told The Springfield News Leader in an interview.
The trend has spread to Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.
Sheriff Doug Rader of Stone County, Mo., said he got the inspiration from Arnott. "There has been no better time than now to proudly display our national motto," Mr. Rader told the Stone County Chronicle. "I’m very humbled at the amount of support behind it."
"Right now it seems like in our country law enforcement has been painted with a brush that we’re bad guys," Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen told the Washington Post. "So I was trying to think of something that might set a fire to our guys. We want to be proud and we want people to be proud of us, and we know we’re better than how people portray us."
Not everyone is pleased.
"Placing ['In God We Trust'] on County owned vehicles, particularly with taxpayer funding, is a violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment of the Constitution, not to mention that it's divisive and offensive to those who do not believe in your deity!" Facebook user Craig Mcdonald posted in a comment on Sheriff Rader’s Facebook page. "I'm all for free expression, and if individual officers want to put ['In God We Trust'] on their personal vehicles, then go for it ... Just don't spend MY money trying to glorify YOUR god!"
Others support the bumper stickers.
"I pay taxes in Stone County and I'm am so glad that my tax dollar is spend on putting IN GOD WE TRUST on police car.....We need more of that," Judy Hord commented on the sheriff’s Facebook page.
Northwest Florida Daily News reports that Freedom From Religion Foundation lodged a complaint demanding the stickers’ removal from Walton County sheriff’s office cruisers.
"It is inappropriate for the sheriff’s office to display ‘In God We Trust’ on county property," the nonprofit foundation wrote in a July 29 letter to Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson. “Statements about a god have no place on sheriff cars.”
Mr. Adkinson sees it in another way. "I respect and appreciate the religious convictions or lack thereof of all citizens," his August 4 response states. “I see absolutely no conflict in this matter. You are obviously unaware that ‘in God we trust’ is the state motto of the state of Florida, and has been since 1886. This was reaffirmed in 2006."
He concluded, "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."