The Sheriff of Midland County, Texas loves God and doesn’t understand why he can’t endorse religion by posting the motto In God We Trust on county patrol vehicles.
Sheriff Gary Painter spoke to Local Big 2 News (it has to be called big, because Texas), saying “I believe in my God, I love my God and I trust him with everything. Why can’t I put that on a vehicle that the people of the county also believe in God.”
Well, Sheriff Painter, it’s for three specific reasons: One, it’s unconstitutional for the government to endorse religious faith; two, you don’t get to decide for the people of Midland County that they believe in God; third, it is illegal for your office to show favoritism towards residents that do believe in God because that would be discrimination.
The Sheriff’s statements really strike at the heart of the In God We Trust issue. Sheriff Painter is saying out loud what all the other Sheriff’s, Councilmen, and Police Chiefs are actually thinking when they say things like IGWT is “patriotic” or “reaffirming our national motto” or “represents the founding of our country.” Those euphemisms are nothing more than obscurantist doublespeak.
Even more troubling is the allusion to IGWT being some kind of response to violence against law enforcement. Sheriff Painter told Big 2 News, “people are killing law enforcement, they’re attacking law enforcement” and “why can’t we stand up and say blue lives matter too?”
These statements stem from the idea that there is somehow a “war on police” – an idea that seems to have really taken off since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri put law enforcement practices and policies under greater public scrutiny. However, according to Aaron Major, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Albany, violence against police is actually at a 45 year low. According to data from the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Fund, of 1466 officer deaths between 2005 and 2014, 891 have been from accidents and illnesses; only about 40% of the deaths have been due to violence directed towards officers. In fact, during my own law enforcement training at Drury University, it was stressed that we were far more likely to be accidentally hit by a car during a traffic stop than to find ourselves in a violent altercation.
More to the point, though violence towards officers – or anyone, for that matter – is horrible, for a government agent to use that violence as a way to promote his or her personal religious agenda is simply disgusting. Yes, police lives matter. However, disagreeing with the religious motto In God We Trust does not mean that the dissenter is automatically on the side of those committing horrible acts of violence towards officers. The two issues – violence towards police and religious mottos – are in no way interconnected. Fusing them together accomplishes nothing more than perpetuating the false “war on police” narrative, further alienating law enforcement from the citizenry they are supposed to protect and serve.
Back to Sheriff Painter, according to Big 2 News, he is worried about being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation if he moves forward with putting In God We Trust on county patrol vehicles. This isn’t an unfounded concern. As I’ve reported before, the FFRF is looking for individuals to challenge law enforcement use of IGWT. Undoubtedly, such fears fuel the persecution complex fire that blazes inside people like Sheriff Painter, who strikes me as such a caricature that he instantly bring to my mind Monty Python’s The Holy Grail: “Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”
[Image: Jeffrey Smith / Flickr / Creative Commons 2.0]