The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that a Texas sheriff department get rid of Christian decals affixed on its vehicles.
A concerned local resident has informed the state/church watchdog that Kinney County has recently started putting bible quote decals on official law enforcement vehicles, a fact confirmed by local reporting. On his official Kinney County vehicle, one officer has Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” The same officer declares that “God is our one true leader” and that he hopes people will Google the bible verses when they see them so that they can “change their life.” Other bible quotes include Mark 12:30, which commands people to “love the Lord your God,” and Isaiah 6:8, which implies that officers are sent by “the Lord.”
Exacerbating the violation is the fact that funding for the decals reportedly came from Texas’ public-funded Operation Lone Star, which was designed to help border counties, such as Kinney County, respond to illicit border activity. According to local media, Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe’s secretary asked if Operation Lone Star funds could be used for bible decals — and Coe approved that use of funding. The secretary has justified the program by saying; “We need more Jesus and more of the Lord.”
Kinney County must immediately remove the bible quotes from its official vehicles in order to respect the constitutional separation between religion and government and the diverse views of its residents and employees, FFRF writes. It is highly inappropriate for the county to display bible verses on government property and to issue public statements about how residents should be Christians.
“The Supreme Court has long held that the Establishment Clause requires ‘government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence writes to Coe. “The addition of bible quotes to the county’s official law enforcement vehicles conveys a message to nonreligious citizens that they are not welcome or accepted in Kinney County, and to nonreligious officers that their government employer assumes they are Christian and find the bible meaningful.”
People interact with and rely on law enforcement during some of the most urgent times of their lives, FFRF reminds the sheriff. Nonbelievers and non-Christian residents should not be made to feel alienated and excluded because the local sheriff’s office they support with their taxes oversteps its power by prominently displaying religious statements on its property. Having bible quotes on official law enforcement vehicles also puts non-Christian officers in a difficult position. They must either refuse — in line with their sincerely held religious or nonreligious beliefs — to join in a Christian affirmation or conform by abandoning those sincerely held non-Christian principles.
FFRF wishes to inform Sheriff Coe of its victorious 2016 lawsuit in Texas against Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, filed along with two individual plaintiffs, over his unlawful decision to affix Latin cross decals on county patrol vehicles. Shortly after, Brewster County removed the crosses and later formally agreed not to place such decals on these vehicles. The county also agreed to pay each individual plaintiff $1 in nominal damages, a symbolic acknowledgement of constitutional violations, as well as $22,370 in attorneys fees and court costs.
Given all this, the Kinney County Sheriff’s Office must remove the bible quotes from its vehicles.
“The Kinney County Sheriff’s Office exists to enforce law and keep the peace, not to serve as preachers,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This is an outrageous overstep that violates freedom of conscience and constitutional dictates.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,700 members and a chapter in Texas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.