The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office (in the aptly named Christiansburg, Virginia) decided a couple of months ago to put decals on all vehicles that say “Blessed are the peacemakers… Matthew 5:9.” Capt. Brian Wright said it was a way to “honor our brothers and sisters in law enforcement during a time when many seek to tear them down.”
But he must have realized how illegal this was because, this week, just days after church/state separation groups became aware of the deals and began to push back, the Sheriff’s Office announced the decals would be coming down.
They were always meant to be temporary, they implied.
On Wednesday, after The Roanoke Times questioned other county officials and they said they were asking Sheriff Hank Partin about the decals, Wright wrote another email saying he had spoken to Partin and “Our current plans are to remove the decals at the end of 2017 Law Enforcement Memorial week.”
The memorial week is this week, designated federally as National Police Week, Wright wrote.
Montgomery County Supervisor Chris Tuck had nothing to do with the decision, but he was the only official who publicly spoke out against the decals:
“I appreciate the sentiment and the meaning of that verse,” Tuck said of “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
“But there is a separation of church and state and I feel that putting biblical verses on public vehicles violates the First Amendment,” Tuck said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation said the day before the decision to remove the decals was announced that they would be writing a letter of concern to the Sheriff’s Department. I’m not sure if they’re still doing that, but they successfully put a stop to similar decals in other cities over the past few years.
It’s the right move this time, too. This is the Bible verse, after all, that says in full, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” It’s religious no matter how you slice it, and it’s specifically highlighting the Christian God.
Not only is that a slap in the face to all the non-Christian officers in the Sheriff’s Department, it sends a message to citizens that they won’t get a fair shake if they’re not obviously Christian.
They could have gotten away with decals saying “In God We Trust” since they can argue that’s the national motto, but the courts wouldn’t be as kind to a straight-up Bible verse. And the second people began pointing that out, the Sheriff folded.
(Image via Facebook. Thanks to Brian for the link)