Crosses on patrol cars? Let’s try pyramids instead

Austin American-Statesman, January 24, 2016

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What kind of state government do we have where top officials would eagerly condone defacing law enforcement vehicles with in-your-face symbols of Christianity?

Last summer, the police department in Childress, a Panhandle community deep in the Bible Belt, placed “In God We Trust” decals on the back of police patrol cars, prompting Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton to fall all over themselves eagerly heralding the idea, each giving legal arguments why it is OK.

Not to be outdone, in December, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson placed 12-inch-tall decals of crosses on the back windshield of county patrol vehicles, prompting Abbott to spring forth with another outburst of support. Paxton has not responded; he’s been very busy in courtrooms and lawyers’ offices as a defendant.

“The cross just represents extra safety for these officers,” Dodson said. “Nobody is taking care of them, just me and I can’t be there all the time.” Now that’s a strange and novel notion that a deity can be lobbied to offer more protection. The corollary must be, naturally, that patrol cars without crosses will be less protected and thus more dangerous.

I spend time each year in Big Bend National Park and see Dodson’s worthy officers doing a good job patrolling their 6,200 square miles of the beautiful Big Bend country. It’s not exactly like driving the streets of West Baltimore or I-35, which are fraught with danger. So, I’m wondering why his officers need extra protection. Seems like while he’s got Abbott’s attention, he could ask him for help rather than placing large crosses on his cars to obtain protection from the Christian God.

Dodson has said that if the attorney general does not approve of his crosses, that he will replace them with “In God We Trust” decals, the phrase that replaced E pluribus unum (Latin for “out of many, one”) on currency in 1957.

Paper currency has large pictures of great early American men, all of whom, with the possible exception of Alexander Hamilton, look like they’re undergoing a prostate exam. The $1 bill has an eyeball hovering atop a giant pyramid.

I propose that any law enforcement vehicles with “In God We Trust” decals also have, on the opposite side, a decal of an eyeball hovering atop a giant pyramid. People may be comforted that these cops are looking out for them with their giant eye. One makes about as much sense as the other on patrol vehicles.

Besides raising doubts among the population about the purpose and sanity of law enforcement, what purpose do the religious decals serve except to confuse? The medical professional in me suspects that these rural law enforcement officials are suffering from the paranoid delusion that this country is engaged in a war on religion, a war on Christmas, a plot to take everyone’s guns away, so the decals are a way of fighting back. The problem with those beliefs is that they are simply not based on reality.

It’s hard to know what the real motivation of these departments was. If the idea of the religious displays was to galvanize communities bound and united by belief and faith, it would surely have the opposite effect. Anyone not Christian who saw the religious decals on law enforcement vehicles would feel alienated, that they’re not welcome, indeed may feel threatened by these folks who have the authority of law and carry weapons. Maybe if you’re not Christian, they won’t help you out.

What kind of state government do we have where top officials would eagerly condone defacing law enforcement vehicles with in-your-face symbols of Christianity? I was raised to believe religion was something personal, something private. I was raised to believe that diversity was a good thing. I was raised to believe that government was not in the business of evangelizing.

Christian displays by government are positively un-American, like something you’d see in countries involved in religious wars on the other side of the planet, the countries that have dominated the news since 2001. Not in this country.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN, CNS, FAAN, is a lifelong Austin resident and retired editor and neonatal intensive care nurse. She writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.