In a new opinion about the legality of stickers on police vehicles that read “In God We Trust,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton reassured worried state legislators that the stickers are legal, should not be removed, and that the sticker policy will easily survive any court challenge to force their removal.
Paxton’s opinion was addressed to Republican state Sen. Charles Perry, who wanted to know how to address complaints by atheists that the vehicle stickers violated the separation of church and state.
“Congress adopted 'In God We Trust' as the national motto of the United States in 1956,” Paxton wrote in his opinion addressed to Sen. Perry. “A law enforcement department’s decision to display the national motto on its vehicles is consistent with that history.”
Further noting that, “the fact that a display has ‘religious content’ or promotes ‘a message consistent with a religious doctrine’ does not by itself ‘run afoul of the Establishment Clause.’"
Paxton added that Congress has required use of the motto on coins and printed currency of the U.S., and that despite numerous challenges against the use of the motto, “courts across the country have consistently held that the statutes do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
After reviewing a collection of court cases attacking the use of the national motto engrained in American history, Paxton noted that courts have upheld the display of the motto on public property because it is “of a patriotic or ceremonial character.”
Paxton cited cases such as the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds, and the use of a creche in a municipality's Christmas display; that maintain that the national motto doesn’t by itself violate the Establishment Clause because “There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.”
Paxton concluded that in his opinion, the motto would not be ruled unconstitutional by any court and “is permissible under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
Jim Walsh, Former Managing Editor at the Texas School Administrators’ Legal Digest, weighed in on the matter. “The Attorney General’s opinion doesn’t preclude further challenges, but if there is some sort of litigation, his opinion will carry some weight with the court. But it doesn’t preclude somebody from filing a lawsuit and trying to find out what a judge thinks about it.”
Walsh was not surprised by the Paxton’s conclusion and does not believe the term “God” is exclusive to one particular religion. “It [the use of God] is certainly an expression of a belief in a deity, so there are going to be people that obviously don’t accept that, that’s why it’s an issue. But it is on our money, it’s adopted by Congress, and if the matter does come up again before the courts, they’re going to look at previous cases, see how courts have ruled, and make their decision based on that.”