A Wisconsin group has asked two Arkansas law enforcement agencies to remove decals saying "In God We Trust" from their police cars, saying the motto can offend non-Christians and subjects them to unwarranted prejudice.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Madison, Wis., sent letters to the Cave City Police Department and the Hempstead County sheriff's office after both departments placed the motto on the back windows of their patrol vehicles.
"It is inappropriate for the department to display "In God We Trust" on government property," foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote in Aug. 19 letters to both law agencies. "Statements about a god have no place on government-owned cars."
Cave City Mayor Ron Burge said he saw the letter Monday but has yet to make a decision on whether to remove the phrase from his city's police cars.
"I don't see anything wrong with it," Burge said of the motto. "Everybody's been for it."
He said Police Chief Nathan Stephens was out of the office until Wednesday, and they'd discuss the matter then.
The Sharp County town's police department added the decals to its four cars late last month. In addition to the motto, cars also feature a memorial to Cave City officer Jeff A. Richardson, who was killed during a pursuit on May 21, 1993, and the logo of the Cave City High School caveman mascot.
When the department posted a notice about the logos on its Facebook page, 584 people "liked" it and 74 people made positive comments. None made a negative response.
Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton said he placed the motto on his department's cars on Aug. 1 after he saw two sheriff's offices in Missouri do the same.
"I think this brings the community together," he said. "It's a common thing our county can stand up for.
"America was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion," Singleton said.
He said he will not remove the logo despite the foundation's letter.
"I feel like the only way it will be removed is if we have a court order and a new sheriff," he said.
Gaylor said she intends to sue some departments if they do not remove the mottos, but she did not elaborate on details.
She said the group receives about 3,500 complaints per year. In addition to the two letters to the Arkansas agencies, the foundation also sent similar notices to eight Missouri law enforcement departments and 22 to other agencies in the southern United States.
Gaylor said 23 percent of Americans identify themselves as "nonreligious" and may feel intimidated if they are stopped by police cars with the logos emblazoned on them.
"All we are asking for is more neutralization. We don't want 'In Atheism We Trust,' she said.
Earlier this month, the foundation also requested the city of Jonesboro remove Bible passages from the E911 dispatch center's Facebook page.
Mayor Harold Perrin ordered the verses removed, but later asked for an attorney general's opinion on the matter.
Last September, the foundation asked Arkansas State University to remove Christian cross decals on its football team's helmets after players used them to memorialize another player and an equipment manager who had died. The university complied with the request and created a nonreligious icon for the helmets.
Just last week, the Osceola City Council voted to join Cave City and Hempstead County in adding "In God we Trust" to all city vehicles after Alderman Tyler Dunegan suggested it.
"It's the national motto," Dunegan said. "It's as much a patriotic thing as it is a religious issue. Citizens want to see more morals and ethics in government. This is a great way to do that."
Officials are checking prices and have received offers of donations to add the sayings to the city's vehicles but haven't moved forward yet.
"If we get one of those [foundation] letters asking us to stop, we'd have to talk it over with the council," Dunegan said.
State Desk on 08/25/2015
Print Headline: Group wants 'In God We Trust' taken off police cars