FFRF rips Virginia sheriff over religious statements

FFRF is taking issue with Tazewell County (Va.) Sheriff Brian Hieatt, who recently decided to put “In God We Trust” bumper stickers on county vehicles, declaring, “We want the public to know that we have strong Christian men and women serving their community.”
“Our department feels very strongly about having In God We Trust on our vehicles,” Hieatt said. “We know there is nothing we can do for our community without the guidance of our Lord.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler sent Hieatt a letter on Jan. 27 in response to complaints from several Tazewell County citizens. “The United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion,” she wrote. Ziegler said that Hieatt’s statements disturbingly “imply a religious test for employment, which is unconstitutional.”

Ziegler pointed out that court acceptance of “In God We Trust” has been based on courts ludicrously claiming the phrase lacks “religious significance.” The sheriff’s admission that his use of the motto is meant to be a mark of the “strong Christian men and women” employed by the sheriff’s department undercuts any attempt to argue that the “In God We Trust” stickers are in any way “nonreligious.”

“It’s hard to imagine that any non-Christian — whether atheist, Jewish or Muslim — would feel welcome in this sheriff’s department, with Hieatt so openly favoring Christianity and misusing his authority to promote religion on the job,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

Freedom From Religion Foundation