MONTGOMERY COUNTY–The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is removing a Bible verse featured on the back of some of its vehicles following concerns about the separation of church and state.
The verse in question was: “Blessed are the peacemakers… Matthew5:9,” which were not paid for with county funds according to Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Tuck.
Tuck said that he and other county officials were unaware of the decals until earlier this week. He said that after consulting with the County Attorney Marty McMahon, the board asked the sheriff’s office to remove them, and Sheriff Hank Partin obliged.
Partin released the following statement Thursday:
“We initially began placing the decals on our vehicles in March of this year. The decals were donated to our office. Our intent was, and still is, to honor our fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement. We planned to leave the decals on our vehicles until the end of National Police Week. After receiving inquiries and a request from our Board of Supervisors to remove the decals, I made the decision to immediately remove them. In the midst of National Police Week, we want to focus on those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving their communities. The last thing that I want is for this to become a distraction to the men and women who serve their communities selflessly every day.”
Tuck said that while he appreciates the verse’s sentiment, the board ultimately agreed with McMahon that it needed to be removed.
“I want our law enforcement to be seen as peacemakers; however, there is the separation of church and state,” he said.
Tuck also noted that county officials were not aware of the decals because they were so small and the fact that no funds had been requested, which is often times how the board finds out about such things.
Sam Grover, an attorney for the Wisconsin-based group Freedom From Religion Foundation said that he was happy to hear that the county was removing the verse.
“You can’t have freedom of religion without freedom from religion in government,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “ This was a clear violation of the establishment clause (of the First Amendment).”
The Virginia ACLU sent a letter to the Virginia Sheriff’s Association in March urging them to avoid placing religious messages on vehicles.
“Because law enforcement officials carry with them the threat of force at all times, they must be exceedingly cautious when it comes to matters of faith in order to avoid actual or perceived religious coercion,” the letter stated. “Officers of local law enforcement agencies similarly “may not proselytize employees, arrestees, witnesses, community members or anyone else they come into contact with while carrying out their official duties.”