Childress Police Dept. Tells FFRF to 'Go Fly a Kite'

Published Sep 29, 2015

NEWS:   The Childress Police Department sent a letter telling the Freedom from Religion Foundation to "go fly a kite" after the organization requested the motto "In God We Trust" be removed from police vehicles.

On 28 September 2015, the Childress [Texas] Police Department published an image on their Facebook page of a letter they had sent to the Freedom from Religion Foundation in response to that organization's request that they remove the phrase "In God We Trust" (which is the U.S. national motto) from their patrol vehicles:

While the letter was recent, debate between the Childress Police Dept. and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) had been taking place for some weeks prior. Childress Police Chief Adrian Garcia first posted to the department's Facebook page about the FFRF's request on 2 September 2015, and a quote from Garcia appeared in a 3 September 2015 article in the Amarillo Globe-News:

Childress Police Chief Adrian Garcia said he is adding the decals in response to increasing violence across the country.

“I think with all the assaults happening on officers across the country and the two that happened in the past few days in Harris County and Abilene, it’s time we get back to where we once were,” Garcia told the Red River Sun, a newspaper serving the Childress area. “This is our nation’s motto ... it’s even on our currency. It’s nothing new.”

The decision was announced through a post on the police department’s Facebook page. The post was shared more than 1,300 times and received more than 3,100 likes.

That initial article, however, indicated that visible support for the Childress Police Dept.'s stance may have been exaggerated. Not all locals in and around Childress opposed the FFRF's position:

Douglas Messer, 46, said he criticized the decision in a comment on the Facebook page.

“I made a very, very short comment. I simply said, ‘Bad move,’ and within five minutes my post had been deleted and I had been blocked,” Messer said.

“They’re the police for the entire community, not just the Christians,” Messer said. “I happen to know that there are a fair number of atheists in that town that would feel discriminated against.”

In the same article, FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert explained why the FFRF took the Childress Police Dept. (and other law enforcement agencies engaging in the practice) to task over the "In God We Trust" decals:

We haven’t sent an official letter of complaint yet, but that is on our docket and we are planning to send something. It is definitely showing a government endorsement of religion over non-religion, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Childress wasn't singled out by the FFRF in a bid to eradicate the decals: the organization stated that they had sent similar letters to nearly three dozen police departments across the United States about the practice (citing expenditure of public monies and tacit intimidation of non-Christians as primary reasons they opposed the practice):

FFRF reminds the agencies that citizens trust law enforcement officers to attend to their secular duties, not spend taxpayer money placing religious messages on patrol cars to the exclusion of the 23% of Americans who are not religious.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor added, "Further, in a time when citizens nationwide are increasingly distrustful of police actions, it is frightening and politically dubious to announce to citizens that law enforcement officers rely on the judgment of a deity rather than on the judgment of the law."

In an earlier, lengthier exposition, the FFRF maintained that the inclusion of "In God We Trust" has never passed a legal test of constitutionality with respect to the Establishment Clause:

But "In God We Trust" has never been legally tested in trial. Its constitutionality has never had its day in court, nor has the Supreme Court issued a decision on its merits. It is premature to use it as a legal excuse to mix religion and government. This is one of the reasons why we have gone to court over the issue.

In 1955 Congress put "In God We Trust" on all currency. Before then it had appeared only sporadically, since the Civil War, on some coins. In 1956 Congress adopted the phrase as our national motto, replacing the historic and more accurate "E Pluribus Unum" ("From Many, One") chosen by Jefferson, Franklin and Adams.

The 1950s was a time of intense Cold War hysteria. "Under God" was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. During the McCarthy era, no congressperson wanted to be seen voting against "God." When Rep. Bennett introduced the bill to put "In God We Trust" on our money, he gave the threat of "materialistic communism" as a justification.

"In God We Trust" on money is a Cold War anachronism. If there ever were any truly "unAmerican" activities, then defacing our secular currency with religious graffiti was one of them.

In Garcia's reply (published on 28 September 2015 to Facebook), he said:

After carefully reading your letter I must deny your request in the removal of our Nations motto from our patrol units, and ask that you and the Freedom From Religion Foundation go fly a kite.

On 29 September 2015, Texas lawmakers issued a statement supporting Garcia's decision:

Senator Charles Perry and Representative Drew Springer issued a joint statement in support of Childress Police Department's right to display "In God We Trust" on their patrol cars.

"In God We Trust" was designated the national motto of the United States in 1956 after legislation passed by Congress was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower. The group behind the letter to Childress, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has unsuccessfully fought to remove "In God We Trust" from other government fixtures such as currency and courthouses in the past.

"I stand firmly with Chief Adrian Garcia and the Childress Police Department as they protect their right to display ‘In God We Trust' on patrol cars," said Perry. "We live in a country with a rich history of celebrating faith and honoring religious liberty. It is un-American to suggest a police department should not be allowed to display our national motto."

"Our law enforcement officers work hard to keep our communities safe and deserve our support, not demands like this," said Springer. "We are in the middle of a spiritual battle in America right now, with the issue of religious liberty front and center. I am proud of Childress Police Department for standing strong."

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has yet to respond to Garcia's letter.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.