A few weeks ago, members of the Haven, Kan., City Council did something you don’t often see in rural America: They voted to remove religious references from police cars and told the chief of police to stop posting religious messages on the department’s Facebook page.
The unanimous vote instructed Police Chief Stephen Schaffer to remove “In God We Trust” stickers from police cars and cease posting passages from the Bible on the social media site.
Sandra Williams, a member of the council, told local media outlets that it’s not the department’s job to invoke religion.
It was a bold move – but it sparked pushback, and it appears that the town has reversed the vote. The Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian nationalist group, issued an outraged email about the vote that links to a petition demanding the return of the stickers. Last night, the council gave in.
The council should have stayed with its original vote. Yes, “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States, but its adoption is not from the founding period. It was codified in 1956 as part of the anti-communist hysteria that swept the nation during the Red Scare. It’s not an inclusive motto, and its use excludes millions of Americans. (Plus, there’s just something creepy about posting a religious slogan on police cars. It implies that the cops are on a religious mission, when that’s the last thing we want from them.) It’s time to seriously consider other options. “E Pluribus Unum,” which served as the nation’s unofficial motto for nearly 170 years, would be a fine replacement.
Most government officials have taken pains to avoid this issue, often dismissing the state’s use of so-called generic religious language as “ceremonial” or “tradition.” But some traditions no longer work for us. Wouldn’t it be great if a serious discussion about this one got started by a small town in the heartland?