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Haven, Kansas ‘In God We Trust’ Police Vehicle Controversy

On May 3 2022, Kansas.com reported that officials in Haven, Kansas came to a decision about having controversial references to religion on police vehicles:

The Haven City Council voted Monday [May 2 2022] to remove the “In God We Trust” decals from all police vehicles.

The Salina Post first reported the five-member council’s unanimous vote to remove decals bearing the official U.S. motto.

Council member Sandra Williams made the motion, which also required Haven Police Chief Stephen Schaffer to remove a post from the department’s Facebook page that included a scripture quote.

That reporting mentioned a “scripture quote” shared by Haven Police Chief Stephen Schaffer on the department’s Facebook page, but the story did not specify the content of the post. Kansas.com linked to a short SalinaPost.com item about the May 2 2022 meeting.

SalinaPost.com reported that during the meeting, Williams told Schaffer “that the Council does not feel [Facebook] is the forum to be talking about God,” continuing:

Chief Schaffer asked if that [statement should be considered] a directive from the Council. Mayor Adam Wright nodded and said, “Yes.” Williams moved to eliminate the quoting of scripture from Haven Police Department’s Facebook page and to remove “In God We Trust” from the police vehicles.

Haven, Kansas ‘In God We Trust’...
Haven, Kansas ‘In God We Trust’ Police Vehicle Controversy

The outlet noted that a second council member seconded the motion. It passed.

By May 4 2022 the story had spread beyond Kansas, appearing on a law enforcement-centric site called Police1.com. An “Editor’s Note” pinned to the top of the page tacitly expressed disapproval about the news, and alluded to a conversation larger than Haven, Kansas:

We asked Police1 readers whether law enforcement agencies should remove “In God We Trust” decals from their police vehicles. A huge majority, 85%, said “NO!” Share your opinions in the comment box below.

The discussion about the presence of religious statements like “In God We Trust” on law enforcement vehicles had been going on for years as of May 2022. A 2016 USAToday.com article (“‘In God We Trust’ decals landing on a lot of cop cars”) addressed the debate.

In 2015, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) issued a statement detailing the scope of the issue:

FFRF sent letters in July and August [2015] to 30 sheriffs’ and police departments around the country that have placed the controversial national motto “In God We Trust” on their vehicles. Law enforcement agencies contacted so far:

Brookfield Police Department, Mo.; Elizabethton Police Department, Tenn.; Greenup County Sheriff’s Office, Ky.; Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Ill.; Laclede County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, Mo.; McDonald County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Linn County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Fla.; Ralls County Sheriff’s Office, Mo.; Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, Mo.; Ripley County Sheriff’s Office, Mo.; Amory Police Department, Miss.; Bay County Sheriff’s Office, Fla.; Bonifay Police Department, Fla.; Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office, Va.; Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, N.C.; Stone County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Walton County Sheriff’s Office, Fla.; Houston County Sheriff’s Office, Ala.; Newton County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Barry County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Camden County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office, Ark.; Cole County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Boaz Police Department, Ala.; Pineville City Marshal, Mo.; Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Department, Mo.; Cave City Sheriff’s Department, Ark.; and Lee County Sheriff’s Department, Va.

FFRF reminds the agencies that citizens trust law enforcement officers to attend to their secular duties, not spend taxpayer money placing religious messages on patrol cars to the exclusion of the 23% of Americans who are not religious.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor added, “Further, in a time when citizens nationwide are increasingly distrustful of police actions, it is frightening and politically dubious to announce to citizens that law enforcement officers rely on the judgment of a deity rather than on the judgment of the law.”

On May 16 2022, KWCH reported on a series of recent and upcoming meetings about Haven’s “In God We Trust” decals; its headline was almost identical to a Washington Times article about the debate. KWCH reporter Grant DeMars tweeted:

That night, DeMars published an update, “City of Haven changes course, allows ‘In God We Trust’ decals on police vehicles.” It noted that the reversal opened a door to “speech” associated with any religion or no religion:

Monday night, May 16 [2022], in a 3-2 vote, the council voted to reverse the decision following pressure from those who argued the decals should never have been removed. Even though Monday night’s vote passed 3-2, those three “yeah” votes were hesitant ones. The three council members who decided the decals could remain on Haven Police Department cars said by allowing this, they must allow similar speech from other religions, or lack thereof on police vehicles. One council member said if something is added that the public doesn’t like or agree with, he doesn’t want to hear complaints.

A different May 16 2022 article by Hemant Mehta went further into the hesitancy behind the “yea” votes. Several updates followed in rapid succession:

DeMars noted that the three “yes” votes were “hesitant.” The council members who flipped did so only after everyone agreed that “similar speech from any other religion (or lack thereof) can also be added to police vehicles.”

You know what that means: There will now be a race between American Atheists and The Satanic Temple to see who can be the first to supply the city of Haven with enough decals highlighting their non-theistic beliefs. I’ve contacted both groups to see what their plans are and will update this post if/when I hear back.

***Update***: The Satanic Temple’s spokesperson Lucien Greaves tells me they will have designs “ready by tomorrow [May 17 2022].”

***Update 2***: Americans Atheists plans to send the city “E Pluribus Unum” stickers. President Nick Fish told me: “Certainly a phrase that speaks to how our nation—and our community—is stronger when we stand together would be more welcome than a divisive, exclusionary slogan that alienates almost a third of Americans.”

Mehta embedded several proposed “designs that The Satanic Temple is considering,” designs he also shared to Twitter on May 17 2022:

Four images seen in the article and tweet featured the following text:

  • “Protect. Serve. hail Satan.”
  • “Valor. Pride. Integrity. Hail Satan.”
  • “One Nation Hail Satan”
  • “Duty. Honor. Hail Satan Community.”

On May 2 2022, the Haven City Council in Haven, Kansas made a decision to remove “In God We Trust” from police vehicles, a decision reluctantly reversed on May 16 2022. At least one worn-down council member warned “if something is added that the public doesn’t like or agree with, he doesn’t want to hear complaints.” In less than 24 hours, both the Satanic Temple and American Atheists expressed interest in also having decals representing their beliefs placed on Haven’s police vehicles.