The Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office recently placed the national motto “In God We Trust” on its vehicles, raising questions from local citizens on whether local governments should incorporate religion in their operations.
Sheriff Tim Parker said it was one of his priorities upon entering office to place the motto on HCSO vehicles, and that it was ultimately his decision.
“We didn’t go around asking for votes or asking what everyone thought,” Parker said.
Parker said the funding for this project came from a source outside the sheriff’s office who wished to remain anonymous.
“It didn’t come from within the department,” he said. “So I don’t see why there’s a problem.”
Regardless of the origin of the funding, some citizens say they are concerned the newly placed mottos violate the separation of church and state.
“In a country that espouses religious freedom, I find this disconcerting,” Hillsdale resident Natasha Crall said. “Especially when it is coming from positions of authority.”
Parker does not see it as an endorsement for a specific religion, however, since “In God We Trust” is the national motto.
The phrase appears on coins and currency as well as many state license plates.
“It astounds me that people are getting upset about our national motto,” he said. “It’s part of our patriotism. Do we want to be patriots of our nation or not?”
Regardless, Crall said, this decision disrespects the minorities HCSO represents.
“It makes me wonder what [Parker] thinks about other groups he’s vowed to protect,” she said.
According to Parker, the motto does not change the way HCSO serves and protects its citizens. It is a representation of the officers’ beliefs that a higher being is watching out for them, he said.
Hillsdale resident Ryan Radabaugh agreed.
“The phrase doesn’t have an effect on our everyday lives. If the officers feel more comfortable in the performance of their duties by having a little extra protection from four simple words, then that’s a win for everyone,” Radabaugh said in a Facebook message. “With the increasing violence against police across the country, if four simple words give them a little peace of mind then have at it.”
Radabaugh and Crall both said Parker should have consulted members of the community before making the decision, however.
“Instead of acting on a whim, they should have sought public opinion before acting on it,” Radabaugh said.
Councilman Adam Stockford agreed the decision was a bold move, but said he believes the community should give Parker the benefit of the doubt.
“He was elected by the constituents of Hillsdale County,” Stockford said. “I trust his judgment.”
The backlash to this decision is one of many recent attempts across the nation to remove references to God, Christianity, or religion from government property. The Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the state must remove the six-foot monument of the Ten Commandments from its capital building, noting it violated the state’s constitutional ban against the use of public funds or property to benefit a religion.
Sacramento attorney Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit in November 2005 against the U.S. government in an attempt to remove the motto “In God We Trust” from all national currency, claiming the national motto is unconstitutional.
Crall agrees and said the national motto represents only one religion, which she said is discrimination.
“What you do on Sunday has nothing to do with your job,” Crall said.