Saturday, August 22, 2015


From the facebook page of the Jasper County (Missouri) Sheriff's Office:

The Jasper County Sheriff's Office is very pleased to announce that we are adding "In God We Trust" decals to the vehicles in our fleet. The first vehicles have begun to have the decal applied this week. We are extremely fortunate that many citizens, businesses and organizations of Jasper County have volunteered to help finance the making of the decals.
Randee Kaiser
Jasper County Sheriff

This is offensive.  Jasper County Sheriff's Office as a government office is responsible for enforcing secular laws consistently and fairly, in service of the public.  The “IN GOD WE TRUST” phrase (abbreviated IGWT) is contrary to the goals and identity of a Sheriff’s Department. 

What does it even mean?  In regards to law enforcement this “IN GOD WE TRUST” statement is meaningless (or corrupt and bigoted), divisive, politically motivated and unconstitutional.  Oh, and incorrect.

Meaningless: In what way does the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department, as a government agency, trust in God?  If they really trusted in God they wouldn’t even need patrol cars, weapons, protective vests or even a budget.  What is it that the deputies, the Sheriff or the department as a whole actually trust God to do, other than generally do nothing?  What does God contribute to law enforcement other than superstitious beliefs?  Do deputies believe God will protect them?  They certainly take a lot of care in protecting themselves (as they should).   But deputies have and will continue to be injured or, God forbid, worse in the line of duty.   I would never tell a deputy they aren’t allowed to trust in God.  But if deputies, the Sheriff, the department or anybody else thinks that deputies can and should trust in God they are just not looking at demonstrable facts.  Maybe God does help, sometimes.  “Miracles” happen.  Phenomena that are improbable, difficult (or impossible) to explain and beneficial do happen, sometimes.  But with equal frequency phenomena that are improbable, difficult (or impossible) to explain and harmful also happen.  The one thing we can trust in from God is inconsistency.  Is that what “in God we trust means?”  How can you trust in inconsistency?  (Ask a statistician if you have half an hour to waste.)  “in God we trust” is a meaningless phrase.  I hope no deputy would be foolish or faithful enough to change their behavior (lower their guard) because of a departmental policy to trust in God.  Is it the policy of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department that deputies should trust in God?  I very much doubt it.  In the image provided by the Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page “in God we trust” is in quotes, so maybe they’re irony quotes.   Either way, why put this meaningless phrase on the cars?  Why associate the department with the phrase at all?

Corrupt, bigoted, divisive:  Maybe it’s not meaningless.  Maybe entities that claim or appear to be working in parallel with God receive a greater presumption of innocence?  Maybe advice and testimony from preachers or priest carries more weight in the execution of law enforcement duties than similar or contrary (but equally sound) advice and testimony from lay people?  Or people of contrary faiths?  Or people of purely secular beliefs?  Some might wish to claim that “IN GOD WE TRUST,” doesn’t really specify which god we’re talking about.  Presumably it’s the god of the Old Testament, New Testament and/or Quran.  But maybe I’m jumping to conclusions.  (Show of hands, who laughed at that?)  Maybe “GOD” in this case is a more general Godhead ideal that would be inclusive of Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Gaia, the Tao, Yahwei, the Source, Krishna, Quetzalcoatl, Ra, Zeus, Thor and a holy host of others?  Maybe, but probably not.  Maybe “IN GOD WE TRUST” refers to a deistic, rather than theistic, god.  Maybe, but again, probably not.  In the image provided, the phrase is in all capital letters.  And regardless of what argument someone might want to offer about all caps or vagueness of which god, “GOD” in this phrase is used as a proper noun.  Even if it doesn’t verbatim say, “In YHWH we trust,” or, “In Allah we trust,” that’s exactly what it means.  (“YHWH is a version of the Old Testament name of God.)  If it actually said, “In Allah we trust” (even though it’s the same god) the people who pretend the current issue is no big deal would be outraged (as they should be).  And their problem wouldn’t be that “Allah” isn’t vague enough; it would be that that phrase, with “Allah” in it, is not representative of them.  That’s really the bottom line.  “IN GOD WE TRUST” implies a preference for biblical values (a nebulous term) and biblical authority.  And that does not represent everyone in the county.  We could debate whether it gives license to police discrimination against anyone rejecting the authority of the Bible.  But if it doesn’t imply that the Sheriff’s Department general policy is subservient to the god of the Bible then why suggest it by prominently displaying that’s where they put their trust?  Whatever authority the Sheriff’s Department has, it is not derived from any god or religious text.  Attaching the IGWT phrase in any way to the Jasper County Sheriff's Office only undermines their credibility as an organization that is honest, accurate and just.

Politically motivated:  I actually hope the motivation is political and not merely religious.  If an individual elected official or coalition of elected officials wanted to promote their deity through their secularly vested authority it would be disgusting.  Don’t believe me?  Would “PRAISE BUDDHA” or “ALLAH AKBAR” decals on cop cars be OK?  It would be the same thing.  But what if the vast majority of voters were followers of one of those faiths?  And what if there were a political movement that suggested the followers of the majority religion were somehow being persecuted and excluded by minority religious groups or the non-religious?  Well then as a political candidate you can appeal to the majority by getting yourself identified as a martyr and proponent of that religion’s deity.  Giving God, or Allah, or even Buddha an official identity in a secular law enforcement agency is a good way to get in good with that god or voters.  If the motives of the elected secular office holder are religiously motivated that smacks of fanaticism.  If the motives are to appeal to the constituency that smacks of shrewd political maneuvering.  Either way, it’s disrespectful to the political office that is currently and temporarily being held.  It’s disrespectful to those who hold alternate beliefs.  And it’s even disrespectful to those who hold similar religious beliefs because it appeals to them on an issue that should not even be an issue.   If you have a candidate who wants to make the popular deity an issue and another that wants to focus on the actual secular responsibilities of the office, the constituency is essentially asked to choose for or against the god.  Could the seated Sheriffs across the state of Missouri see this as an opportunity to grab some entirely too easy votes in subsequent elections?  I know how I would vote when there’s an official who panders to the majority and doesn’t mind alienating the minority.  I know where the Sheriff can get some slightly used “Gott mit uns” belt buckles to go with those IGWT decals.  That’s a little unfair because I don’t think the Sheriff wants to invade Poland or kill Jews.  But where the metaphor holds up is in the religious majority are abusing their secular police authority while further marginalizing the minority.
Incorrect: There are deputies who are not Jewish, not Christian and not even Muslim.  Are we telling these deputies that once the decals go on they trust God?  I don’t think the decal has that authority.  Or maybe IGWT means that we as a community trust in God?  That’s just insulting.  And is it the responsibility or right of the police to remind me I’m supposed to trust in an alleged supernatural entity that pre-literate Hebrews and subsequent Europeans and Middle-Easterners cling to?  That’s just infuriating.  There are deputies who don’t trust in God and there are citizens who don’t trust in God.  This is true not just in Jasper County, but across Missouri and the US as a whole.  Of course many of us, even brave deputies, do not welcome the prejudice and discrimination that comes along with being identified as a non-Christian or worse, *gasp* atheist.   Even the well-meaning ignorant bigotry like: “You’re an atheist?  But you’re so nice,” is generally unwelcome.  And where it could effect a performance review or assistance in a hazard-prone work environment… maybe it’s better to keep it to yourself.  You know, like gays used to have to do. 

Unconstitutional:  This is really more of an opinion.  I disagree with the findings of the legal cases which fail to recognize “IN GOD WE TRUST” (which if you didn’t know, has actually been the US motto since 1956.) as being inconsistent with establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Here’s what I’m talking about, from Wikipedia, :
Advocates of separation of church and state have questioned the legality of this motto, asserting that it is a violation of the United States Constitution, prohibiting the government from passing any law respecting the establishment of religion.[29] Religious accommodationists state that this entrenched practice has not historically presented any constitutional difficulty, is not coercive, and does not prefer one religious denomination over another.[29]
"In God we trust" as a national motto and on U.S. currency has been the subject of numerous unsuccessful lawsuits.[30] The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."[31] The decision was cited in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, a 2004 case on the Pledge of Allegiance. These acts of "ceremonial deism" are "protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content."[32] In Zorach v. Clauson (1952), the Supreme Court also held that the nation's "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being" and that government recognition of God does not constitute the establishment of a state church as the Constitution's authors intended to prohibit.[33]
Aside from constitutional objections, President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with using the motto on coinage as he considered using God's name on money to be sacrilege.[34]
*But this issue has presented constitutional difficulty.  We have some court cases here that pretty much make that point. 
* “…is not coercive…”  Directly coercive?  No, no it’s not.  But it does create a line in the sand inviting ideological tribalism with the word God as the point of contention.  But let’s say hypothetically, you’re a deputy that doesn’t believe a god, or at least not one that can be trusted.  Let’s go on to assume one day your boss wants to put ‘IN GOD WE TRUST” on your patrol vehicle.  How comfortable would you be telling your boss that he’s wrong?  That seems coercive to me. 
* “…does not prefer one religious denomination…” If we’re comparing Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans and even Jewish and Muslims believers then that statement would be pretty much true.  But it does prefer all of these “denominations” over any belief system that does not identify with a singular deity who goes by the name “God.”  The religious accommodationists are just wrong.
* In Zorach v. Clauson (1952) Justice Douglas offered the opinion: “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”  But it’s not that simple.  As individuals many of us are religious people.  But our institutions are not capable of thought, let alone presupposition.  Perhaps we may assume he meant that in the establishment of our institutions we presupposed a Supreme Being.  I repeat my counterpoint, as individuals many of us are religious people.  But as a people we neither have the authority to declare a Supreme Being over government and its citizens nor to declare our government and its citizens are under the authority of a Supreme Being.  To clarify, assuming there is a god, we can’t force the responsibility of government oversight on it and I would hope no one believes we should as individuals nor en masse should be forced to submit to a super-governmental authority.  One might argue this is a natural state which just exists between a god and our government (or all governments) but for this to be official recognition it does imply a deity/government religious relationship even if there are additional religious practices.  It would not be the state sponsored church the founders so vehemently wished to avoid (a la Church of England).  But claiming that the government is subordinate to a Supreme Being or that the authority for the United States to self-govern comes from a supreme being is a religious belief therefore the kernel of a state sponsored religion.  Further, it creates an unfounded but tangible barrier between Americans who accept the existence and authority of a Supreme Being and those who don’t.  Justice Douglas just got it wrong.
* In Aronow v. United States (1970) “It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion.”  It’s not obvious.  Actually it’s obvious that it does.  It declares that 1. There is a god, 2. We have a relationship with it, and 3. In that god is where our trust lies.  As religions go it’s pretty watered down.  But it is a religion.  Further, religions that are already established that also claim there is a god, we have a relationship with it and are (unintentionally or otherwise) endorsed by the US motto.  Religions (or belief systems) that don’t claim there is a god, we don’t have a relationship with it and/or we can’t trust it run contrary to the motto and therefore are dis-endorsed by the motto and US government.  That’s kind of hurtful.  “Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character…” This doesn’t make it none religious.  It just ties the religion/religious belief to state identity.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit just got it wrong.
* Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, (2004) “…protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.”  This is regarding the Pledge of Allegiance.  The implication is that if you say “under God” enough it just loses significance.  If that’s true we can extend that to the Pledge itself.  The more you say the Pledge, the less it means.  I suppose in elementary school it felt that way.  But this is a ridiculous assertion.  In trying to decide whether “under God” belongs in the Pledge the school district ruled that it had actually become meaningless so they didn’t have to consider its significance.  Elk Grove Unified School District just got it wrong.

History: “IN GOD WE TRUST” was ratified as the official United States’ motto in 1956.  Before then “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one.  Meaning out of all the different states or many different people, they come together to form one Nation.) had been the nation’s accepted but unofficial motto.  The IGWT motto was adopted during the Cold War due to McCarthyism and a general fear of ‘godless communism.’  “Under god,” was added to the pledge in 1954 for similar reasons.  Subsequently, millions of Americans have felt alienated due to politicians and fellow Americans they who have proven themselves narrow-minded, oblivious and/or callous.

There’s one point I’d like to push just a little bit harder.  When we think God is on our side we tend to over-estimate our righteousness.  I don’t want police who believe they are infallible.  I want police that understand they are mere humans, subject to emotions, imperfect sensory perception and misjudgments.  I want police that are self-policing, looking for opportunities to learn from their mistakes.

In parting I’d like to leave you with a quote from S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley (R).  She was referring to the battle flag of the Confederacy flying over the state Capitol.  I was going to paraphrase but I’ll leave it to you to consider the similarities and differences between these two issues.  If you insist on being obtuse, please don’t annoy the rest of us.

"I think the more important part is it should have never been there," she said. "These grounds are a place that everybody should feel a part of. What I realized now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain."
~SC Gov. Nikki Haley (R)

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