By Alan Blinder and Richard Pérez-Peña
The chief deputy to Sheriff Johnny Moats of Polk County appeared in an office doorway one morning this month with a message he knew would delight his boss: Another Georgia lawman had heeded Sheriff Moats’s suggestion to add “In God We Trust” decals to official vehicles.
It was a small part of what has emerged as a big moment for the national motto, which has long been cherished by many Christians, criticized by those who say it infringes on the separation of church and state, overlooked by plenty and safeguarded by courts. In recent months, dozens of Southern and Midwestern law enforcement agencies have added the axiom to squad cars, usually to the vexation of vocal, often distant critics, and at the personal expense of sheriffs, police chiefs or rank-and-file employees.
“If it’s on my money and it’s on the state flag, I can put it on a patrol car,” said Sheriff Moats, who wrote to Georgia’s sheriffs this year to promote the motto’s placement on law enforcement vehicles. “Just about every single day, I have another sheriff calling and saying, ‘I’ve done it’ or ‘Can you send me a picture of your patrol car?’ ”
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