Texas law enforcement divisions display the national motto “In God We Trust” on patrol cars after the Texas attorney general signed off on their doing so.
In early November, Attorney General Ken Paxton released an opinion that answered the question whether a police department or sheriff’s office could display the national motto on patrol vehicles.
The Childress police chief, Adrian Garcia, had displayed the motto on patrol cars as a response to recent violence on law enforcement officers, as reported by Fort Worth Business in early September. Garcia told the Red River Sun, “I think with all the assaults happening on officers across the country … it’s time we get back to where we once were.”
Breitbart Texas has reported extensively about the execution of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth in late August. The deputy was shot 15 times in the head and the back while he was at a Chevron station to put gas in his patrol car.
In the summer, the Madison, Wisconsin, based Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent letters to 30 police agencies in multiple states, including the police department in Childress, as reported by the Austin American Statesman. The nonprofit’s website states that it engages in the “critical work to promote nontheism and defend the constitutional separation between religion and government.”
The Hutchinson County Sheriff’s Department, and the Seagraves, Texas police departments, had joined in to show support, as reported by CBS DFW in late September.
On October 5, Texas Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) requested an attorney general opinion on the issue.
In early December, after the attorney general opinion had been issued giving law enforcement the advisory green light, Angelina County held a ceremony to put the decal on the sheriff’s patrol car. Pastors attended. Angelina County Sheriff Greg Sanches said it was very important to the values and the traditions of the county and the event was “history.” Citing the San Bernardino shootings, and the officer who walked the citizens to safety saying “Stay behind me,” he said that is what law enforcement does in service to their communities.
The national motto “In God We Trust” was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1956. The motto is on coins and printed currency in the U.S.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a former Texas Supreme Court justice and the longest-serving attorney general of the Lone Star State, wrote Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton a letter in mid-October saying, “[A]s the Supreme Court has held time and again, the Constitution commands acknowledgment and accommodation of religion, rather than hostility towards religion.” He added, “Given these well-established principles, it is unsurprising that ‘In God We Trust” has survived every legal challenge.”
The legal question that had been answered by the attorney general was whether the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause prevents such displays. This constitutional provision provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The attorney general opinion noted that the nation’s courts have consistently held that use of the motto does not violate the Establishment Clause. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has noted in multiple opinions that the motto is a constitutional “reference to our religious heritage.”
The issue of the motto being on police cars has, states the attorney general opinion, never been the subject of a court decision. Other religious displays, such as the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds has. In that case which went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court emphasized the “passive use” of the text in the monument and the “role the Decalogue plays in America’s heritage.”
The attorney general concluded that displaying the national motto on Texas patrol cars was consistent with the history of using the motto in a patriotic and ceremonial nature, and the “official acknowledgement by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.”
After the issuance of the attorney general opinion, Katy, Texas, was the second city in the state to join the effort, as reported by ABC13. Cleveland ISD, joined soon after.
The Muleshoe Police Department, and the Terry County Sheriff’s Office, has also added the mottos to vehicles, as reported by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Lubbock Online.
In early December, Brazoria County Sheriff Charles Wagner put them on patrol cars saying “This is something I wanted to do. [I] told others, ‘Let’s get back to our core values,’ and this is one of them,” reported Click2 Houston.
Adding to the non-exhaustive list of law enforcement divisions sporting the motto on patrol vehicles is McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara. McNamara wrote in a Facebook post, “IN GOD WE TRUST is more than our national motto … it’s our country’s foundation and part of our identity as Americans!!! He wrote, “Considering everything that is going on now in our country, I feel it is so important to get back to the values that our country was founded on.”
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as an associate judge and prosecutor. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2