Texas Gov. Greg Abbott submitted a legal memo to the state Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday erroneously insisting that Christian crosses may be legally displayed on sheriffs' vehicles. The governor is interfering in a controversy resulting from the Freedom From Religion Foundation's official complaint letter about this unconstitutional practice by the Brewster County Sheriff's Office, which recently added Latin crosses to its patrol cars.
Government officials such as Abbott, and sheriffs like those in Brewster County, took an oath of office to uphold our Constitution. But, apparently, they need a reminder that it is an entirely secular document. The Constitution does not recognize a god, much less the Christian one, and its only references to religion are exclusionary.
Abbott is governor of all Texas citizens, not just Christians. So it's dismaying that his brief assumes Brewster County has a Christian "heritage." Not so. Individuals may be religious, but counties have no religion. When public officials use their official capacity to promote their personal religion, they are violating the law. FFRF's complaint was not over an individual sheriff who had a personal cross around his neck, or a sheriff placing a cross on a personal vehicle, but over the department officially aligning itself and its officers with religion, in this case Christianity.
Such governmental speech and action sends a chilling message that the department itself enforces Christian doctrine, instead of civil law, and further signals that Christian citizens are the insiders, while non-Christians and nonbelievers are outsiders.
The absence of religious symbols from official sheriff vehicles would not, contrary to Abbott's claim, express "hostility to religion." Governmental neutrality is the appropriate viewpoint. A sheriff should not care about the religion of citizens or suspects, but about enforcing the law evenhandedly and protecting citizen rights.
Abbott attempts but fails to reconcile the government displaying exclusively Christian symbols on its property with the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which protects citizens from religious endorsement by the government. Rather than addressing the considerable body of Supreme Court case law condemning religious endorsement by the government, including by the placement of crosses on governmental property, Abbott mischaracterizes the Supreme Court as having an "expansive interpretation of the Establishment Clause's limited and unambiguous test."
Abbott's goal is clear: to pander to his religious constituents by being seen as a modern-day crusader for the Christian cause. His memo to the Attorney General's Office is anything but a fair and objective legal analysis. FFRF hopes that when the attorney general issues his own opinion, he will set aside political considerations and stick to interpreting the law.
FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 members, including almost 1,000 individuals in Texas.
A pending bill in your state would legalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom. We need to stop it.
SB 40 would permit officials to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "The clerk or deputy clerk shall not be required to issue a marriage license if such clerk has an objection to the issuance of such license on personal, ethical, moral or religious grounds," the bill reads.
Not surprisingly, SB 40 is being dubbed the "Kim Davis Bill" after the Kentucky county clerk who gained national notoriety when she refused to marry same-sex couples. State Sen. Charles Carrico, the sponsor of the bill, recently likened homosexuality with cancer. The bill would allow official discrimination in a secular government on spurious religious grounds. There is no justification for it. SB 40 is currently before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
- Your state senator
- Members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee
- Voice your strong opposition to SB 40.
Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste the wording below. (When you contact your state senator, please add that you are a constituent.)
I am writing as a Virginia resident and taxpayer to oppose SB 40, the so-called "Kim Davis Bill." It would illegitimately exempt officials from issuing marriage licenses if they claim a religious objection. This bill turns religious belief into an instrument that bigots can use to persecute LGBTQ individuals. Citizens rely on their government to serve them equally regardless of their background. A county or city clerk issues marriage licenses in an official capacity, and if the person's religious beliefs come in the way, then the individual shouldn't be in that office. SB 40 goes against the founding secular principles of our country.
The mayor of a small town in Northern Wisconsin recently made the right decision to remove In God We Trust stickers from the township's police cars in response to a Freedom From Religion Foundation request. Please let him know how much you appreciate his support of the First Amendment.
The mayor and city officials will quite certainly be receiving blowback from the other side. It is important that we counter it.
There is no good reason for city vehicles to display a religious message. The history of the motto "In God We Trust" shows no secular purpose; the motto was first adopted during the Cold War as a reaction to the purported "godlessness" of communism. America's original motto — "E Pluribus Unum" ("out of many, one") — is purely secular and was selected by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
The Pew Research Center reports nearly one in four adult Americans, and one in three young Americans, is nonreligious. "In God We Trust" is not even correct. For it to be accurate, it would have to read, "In God Some of Us Trust," and wouldn't that be silly?
The Honorable David Hovel
Mayor of Prescott
388 Dakota St. South
Prescott, WI 54021
Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste the wording below.
I want to thank you for your correct decision to remove In God We Trust stickers from your town's police cars. Citizens of all religious views or no religion interact with and rely on law enforcement during some of the most vulnerable times of their lives. Your decision ensures that these citizens will not be made to feel excluded because the local government they support with their taxes overstepped its bounds by prominently placing an exclusionary religious statement on police vehicles.
Thank you, once again, for making the right decision.
To read more on the issue, click here.