Decals a Virginia police department put on some of its patrol cars have become the source of controversy.
On Feb. 21, the Bristol Virginia Police Department posted three pictures on its Facebook page of patrol vehicles with the new decals attached to either their rear bumpers or trunks. The decals read "In God We Trust" in blue capital letters.
The decals were applied to 50 of the department's vehicles, reports The Daily Progress. NorthStar Church, which is in Bristol, provided the department with the decals and also paid for them.
"The city or the taxpayers are not having to absorb any of that cost,” Bristol police Capt. Maynard Ratcliff said, according to The Daily Progress. Ratcliff also said the feedback from the department itself had been positive.
According to NorthStar youth pastor Gary Breeding, the church suggested the idea of the decals to the Bristol police,in addition to other local departments, including Washington Country Sheriff's Office, which is in southwest Virginia. Purchasing the decals for both departments cost NorthStar Church $700.
"The police department is getting so hammered," said Breeding. "We just wanted to let these guys know we’re praying for them."
The pictures garnered more than 130 comments and the reactions were mixed. Some praised the department for its decision to use the decals, while others criticized the decision, claiming that using the decals was unconstitutional.
"In God We Trust," has been the official motto of the United States since 1956 and first appeared on currency in 1864, according to State Symbols USA.
The stir the motto created in Bristol is not new. In 2016, a group of atheists attempted to get the phrase removed from U.S. currency by filing a federal lawsuit. The plaintiffs argued that because they handle currency in their daily lives, the appearance of the phrase was being imposed upon them, reports The Huffington Post.
A bill moving through the Tennessee state legislature would require all license plates in the state to carry the words "In God We Trust," reports The Associated Press. The bill has been met with skepticism by the state attorney general's office, which says that the bill may not be constitutional if residents have no choice but to have the phrase on their cars.
The decals on the Bristol police cars have met with similar criticisms.
"We believe that putting 'In God We Trust' as the message is exclusive to atheists, agnostics and anyone else who doesn’t believe in one god, and it’s unfortunate and disrespectful that that’s the message they want to send to nonbelievers in their community," said Madeline Ziegler, a legal fellow with the nonprofit advocacy group Freedom from Religion Foundation, reports The Daily Progress.
"We think [E Pluribus Unum is] a much more inclusive statement and a much better option for law enforcement agencies looking to express patriotism."