Texas police can keep 'In God We Trust' on patrol vehicles

Attorney General rejected arguments that the taxpayer-funded decals improperly mixed religion and government

By Chuck Lindell
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN — Police departments in Texas can display "In God we trust" on vehicles without fear that a court will step in to abolish the practice, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a Wednesday.

Two Republican legislators had asked Paxton to weigh in after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters this summer to more than 30 police agencies in several states, including the Childress Police Department in the Texas Panhandle, objecting to the motto's appearance on police vehicles.

In his written opinion, Paxton rejected arguments that the taxpayer-funded decals improperly mixed religion and government by endorsing a particular religious viewpoint.

Congress adopted "In God we trust" as the national motto in 1956, and the statement has survived numerous legal challenges in the decades since, Paxton wrote. Although his office could find no court rulings related to displaying the motto on police vehicles, Paxton said the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the motto is a constitutional "reference to our religious heritage."

"Displaying 'In God We Trust' on police vehicles is a passive use of a motto steeped in our nation's history that does not coerce citizen approval or participation," he wrote.

The Childress Police Department's display, he said, does not violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on government-sponsored religion because it "does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve its content."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, had argued that police agencies should focus on their secular duties, not on messages that exclude people who are not religious, and should rely on the judgment of the law, not a deity.

Even before Wednesday's opinion, however, Paxton rejected Gaylor's claim in a Facebook post that enthusiastically supported the Childress policy, saying: "It is imperative we safeguard the constitutional principles for which our Founding Fathers fought."

Copyright 2015 Austin American-Statesman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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