In an official letter to a Texas State Senator last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton argued the constitutionality of displaying the national motto
There is nothing unconstitutional about displaying “In God We Trust” on law enforcement vehicles, says Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton submitted an official opinion to Texas State Senator Charles Perry last week,arguing that the display of the national motto by the Childress, Texas police department and other law enforcement does not violate the Establishment Clause.
“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,” Paxton’s letter read.
A LEGAL ATTACK ON LAW ENFORCEMENT
The controversy over “In God We Trust” on law enforcement vehicles ballooned in late September after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent over 60 letters to police departments and sheriffs’ offices around the country. The organization is demanding the removal of the national motto from law enforcement vehicles, alleging that such display violates the Establishment Clause.
When Childress Police Chief Adrian Garcia received one such letter, he publicly stated his refusal to comply with FFRF’s demands, formally retaining Liberty Institute to take legal action on his behalf.
Garcia’s decision to display the national motto was inspired shortly after the ambush and murder of Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth.
Garcia went to Facebook with a photo revealing the new decals.
“With all the attacks on police right now, it’s a tough time to be in law enforcement,” Garcia said. “We are displaying the motto as a patriotic way to rally together.”
Garcia’s refusal to comply with the FFRF’s demands garnered national attention, with constitutional experts quick to highlight the historical and judicial arguments for the public display of the national motto.
“Throughout America’s history, the phrase ‘In God we Trust’ has been honored and celebrated as an expression of what it means to be an American,” wrote Jeremy Dys, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel in an editorial in September. “Any effort to remove it from our currency, silence its public utterance, sandblast it from our walls or paint over its display should be rejected as bald efforts to rewrite our history and destroy our heritage.”
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL WEIGHS IN
Dated November 4, 2015 and addressed to State Senator Charles Perry, Attorney General Paxton’s opinion referenced multiple past court decisions that affirmed the legality of the motto’s public display as consistent with “our nation’s historical practices and understandings.”
“There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgement by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789,” the opinion stated, quoting U.S. Supreme Court case Lynch v. Donnelly (1984).
Specifically, the letter highlights court decisions that upheld the inscription of the national motto on county building facades, (Myers v. Loudoun Cnty., Sch. Bd.), and the constitutionality of displaying posters with the national motto in schools (Schmidt v. Cline).
Paxton concluded by postulating “a court is likely to conclude that a law enforcement department’s display of the national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ on its patrol vehicles is permissible under the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.”
And as Dys penned in September, “No police or sheriff department should be bullied into removing ‘In God we Trust’ from their cruisers.”
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.