by Josh Ford | 24News
A city council ordered a “religious phrase” to be removed from all police vehicles, claiming it violated the separation of church and state. However, when the citizens got wind of the new mandate, the council members quickly found out why this was a big mistake.
In Haven, Kansas, the citizens take pride in “God, family, and country.” Being a small town in middle America, their police department also reflects those sentiments. That’s why when one Haven officer suggested adding a decal with “In God We Trust” on their law enforcement vehicles, Police Chief Stephen Schaffer thought it was a great idea.
“An officer came to me and say, ‘hey, you know, I think it’d be a good idea,’” Chief Schaffer recalled, recounting how the idea of adding the decals came to be. “So, I was like, ‘why not?’ We did it. It’s on our money. It’s our national motto. So I didn’t figure it would be a problem.” Little did Chief Schaffer know that one city councilwoman would take offense, and she quickly decided those decals had to go.
During a city council meeting, Councilmember Sandra Williams voiced concerns to Police Chief Stephen Schaffer regarding the “In God We Trust” decals and the quoting of scripture on the Haven Police Department Facebook page. She said the council did not believe Facebook was the correct forum to be discussing God, referring to Chief Schaffer’s social media post
After a brief exchange, the police chief asked if those were directives from the council, and Mayor Adam Wright said it was. Councilwoman Williams moved to eliminate the quoting of scripture on Facebook, as well as the decals. Councilwoman Kylie Rush seconded, and the motion passed unanimously. “I was a little defensive, but in the end, we’re going to do whatever the council tells us to do,” Chief Schaffer said.
However, citizens of Haven and the surrounding Reno County were outraged when they found out about the city council’s directive to remove the decals and eliminate any Bible quotes from the police department’s Facebook page. According to reports, “Haven Mayor Adam Wright said he received more than 100 emails after the first vote, with all but two in support of the decals. Wright clarified that the decals were purchased by an officer, not with city funds.”
The town’s decision sparked a national outcry, especially on Police 1, a website that covers the law enforcement community. Some of the most popular remarks included, “I wonder if those same councilors would forgo all their earnings because the currency they receive their paychecks in has the same motto on it?” Another wrote, “I think that this is absolutely ridiculous and should not be allowed to be voted on. Part of the First Amendment, if people would take the time to actually educate themselves on it, was created to prevent the government from getting involved in religion, not to keep religion out of government.”
As word of the decal situation spread, the next city council meeting was packed with concerned citizens and news reporters. Throughout the meeting, the crowd cheered and booed during various conversations. According to the Hutchinson News, Haven resident Mary Andreson stood to address the council and began with the history of the “In God We Trust” motto and how in 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the statement the national motto.
“It simply says God, and you can choose as a free American to make that God whichever God you choose it. The same model has been upheld continuously by circuit courts in their rulings,” Andreson said as the crowd cheered. Six other residents followed Andreson, and all but one strongly urged that the decals be re-instated at once.
After 45 minutes of public comment, Mayor Wright asked the council for a new vote on the decal subject. “I’d like to see a motion on the table to have that put back on because the community has spoken,” Wright said. “Do I have a motion to re-establish ‘In God We Trust’ on the back of the patrol vehicles?”
The vote was 3-2 in favor of re-instating the “In God We Trust” decals with the two dissenting votes coming from the same councilwoman, Sandra Williams, who initiated the removal, and another councilwoman, Kylie Rush, who had seconded Williams’s proposal for the removal at the prior meeting. But, in the end, it was the public outcry that mattered. “We have five churches in our community,” Haven resident Ryan Warden said. “I think they should have probably slowed down and done a little more research about what the people actually wanted and not what they felt was right.”