On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Urges Alabama Sheriff's Office to Resume Lawful Display of 'Blessed Are the Peacemakers' Decals on Police Vehicles, Offers Assistance
HOUSTON COUNTY, Ala. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute are urging the Houston County Sheriff’s Office to reconsider its decision to remove “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” decals from police department vehicles. Sheriff Valenza removed the decals after being threatened with lawsuits and accused of violating the Establishment Clause’s so-called “separation of church and state.” In coming to the sheriff’s defense, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead pointed out that groups which operate on a strictly separatist notion that any reference to religion must be purged from public life are misguided in their understanding of the First Amendment’s protections for free speech and religious expression. The Rutherford Institute has also offered the Sheriff’s Department assistance in defending against any challenges that might arise from resuming their lawful display of what Whitehead describes as “a universal message of peace” on government vehicles.
“At a time when public trust in law enforcement is eroding due to repeated reports of excessive use of force against unarmed citizens, the message of peace conveyed by the ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ decal is a welcome and timely reminder that law enforcement officers are first and foremost peace officers and that this particular police agency is dedicated to preserving the peace,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Indeed, this message of peace is not exclusive to the Christian religion. Nor is the sentiment exclusively religious. In fact, the words of the decal convey a universal sentiment that has been echoed repeatedly by other leaders, religious, secular and otherwise, including the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., and Albert Einstein, to name a few.”
In early July 2015, square-shaped decals were affixed to the back of Houston County Sheriff's Office vehicles depicting a badge and proclaiming “Blessed are the peacemakers” with Matthew 5:9 referenced below the badge. The sheriff’s office was subsequently contacted by two organizations, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which reportedly threatened lawsuits over the display of the “Peacemakers” decals, insisting that they violate the so-called “separation of church and state.” Warned that if the county did not remove the decals, it would have to pay for any legal expenses incurred from a lawsuit on its own, Sheriff Donald Valenza opted to remove the decals, which cost $1.60 each. In urging the Sheriff to reconsider his decision and offering the organization’s assistance, The Rutherford Institute provided a legal analysis supporting the view that the decals serve a clear secular purpose—to reinforce the sheriff’s department’s commitment to peaceful enforcement of the law—and are as legally defensible as nonsectarian prayers at legislative meetings, Ten Commandments monuments on public property, and the inscription of “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency.