The small town of Byram, Mississippi, recently added the national motto, "In God We Trust," to its police cruisers.
Police Chief Luke Thompson said he thought the slogan would help to unite the community, at a time when the use of force by police officers has come under scrutiny due to a series of deadly officer-involved shootings.
The police department began displaying the motto on its patrol cars three months ago.
“How can we overcome some of the differences we’re seeing across the country, some of the attacks on police officers?” Thompson asked in an interview with WAPT News. "How can we garner more community support and keep those things from happening here?"
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi agrees with Thompson and views "In God We Trust" as a motto that does not promote one religion over another, according to Jennifer A. Riley-Collins, executive director of ACLU of Mississippi.
Former ACLU of Mississippi lawyer Bear Atwood, however, said the motto's religious connotation could alienate some Byram citizens.
"Mississippi, just like every other state, has people of all different faiths and people who are not believers,” he said. “And so, it can send a message to people who are not believers that they are not included in the community."
Byram is just one of many recent examples of towns around the U.S. adding "In God We Trust" to police vehicles. In Florida, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen said in an interview with News Herald that the stickers improved cohesion and morale within the Sheriff's Office, and he added that they were not meant to promote religion.
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But critics say the stickers raise concerns that the use of the phrase on taxpayer-funded vehicles will blur the separation of church and state and give the impression that public agencies, such as the police, endorse a specific religion.
“This motto has nothing to do with the problem of police forces’ shooting people, but it’s a great way to divert attention away from that and wrap yourself in a mantle of piety so that you’re above criticism,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, a co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), told The New York Times.