Branson, Mo. – The Missouri Sheriff’s Association voted Monday to install the phrase and the United Sates’ national motto “In God We Trust” on their patrol vehicles.
The decision was agreed upon unanimously, according to the president of the MSA, Sheriff Rodney Herring of Grundy County.
Herring noted that Stone County Sheriff’s Office had made national headlines by installing the phrase on some of their squad cars in July and that the motion was voted on and passed as both a show of solidarity and an effort to improve the public’s perception of law enforcement.
“In the times we’re in right now and how law enforcement is viewed negatively, we are looking for something positive,” he said.
He also acknowledged that while he understood having the word “God” on public property may upset some people, that it was more about honoring the nation’s motto, which was adopted in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Herring added that the addition of the phrase to squad cars would be an individual choice for each department.
“In some areas, it’s going to be well received, and in some areas, it won’t,” he said. “In rural areas people are more religious, and in urban places, there’s not a huge religious following in those areas… It is my opinion that there will probably be some opponents to make a proverbial mountain out of a molehill.”
Herring said he did not expect lawsuits, but the move, which is intended to unite people around law enforcement, may have alienated some Missourians, including humanist and non-religious groups from around Missouri.
James Croft, the leader in training at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, said the decision was a divisive one for an organization that is already embattled with claims it doesn’t serve or support some members of the community.
“It’s a terrible decision,” Croft said. “At a time when law enforcement in this state is already experiencing a severe tension between law enforcement personnel, it seems a terrible time to build a controversy… It’s particularly important that government organizations that we give the authority to have certain powers over us be especially careful to represent the whole community.”
Croft represents a community of St. Louis atheists, skeptics and agnostics who do not believe in God, and he believes they deserve to have the same representation as other groups.
In the past, the phrase “In God We Trust” has been protected by Supreme Court decisions, which downplayed the religiosity of the phrase. In the 2004 case, Elk Grove Unified School District vs. Newdow, a case relating to the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the majority opinion held that phrase and like phrases, including “In God We Trust,” are “protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.”
Croft was quick to note that while the phrase was protected on currency, other measures to rid religious monuments from state property had succeeded. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that two Kentucky courthouses had violated the Establishment Clause of the first Amendment with their displays of the Ten Commandments. However, the Court ruled the same day that Ten Commandments displays could be allowed if they also had secular importance, such as framing them in a historical setting.