A Kansas police department has removed religious decals after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained about them.
The police department in Harper, Kan., had placed a decal on the back of patrol cars stating: “Romans 13:4.” The New Testament verse in question reads as follows: “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (King James Version).
Displaying a decal referencing this ominous Christian threat violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF had maintained. The Harper Police Department’s choice of verse to display was particularly disturbing. There was something alarming about an official allusion to a verse that talks about “revengers,” “bearing swords” and “executing wrath,” when the job of the Harper Police Department is to protect and serve, not to mete out biblical punishments or divine anger.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel had written to Harper Police Chief Doug Murphy. “Placing decals referencing biblical quotes on the back of a law enforcement vehicle fails to respect either constitutional mandate of neutrality.”
Spending taxpayer time and money placing religious symbols on patrol cars is beyond the scope of secular government, FFRF reminded the Harper Police Department, and requested that the Romans 13:4 decals be removed from police vehicles.
With FFRF’s letter generating a flurry of media coverage, the city of Harper swiftly backed down.
FFRF is pleased at the impact of its efforts.
“This was a particularly obvious violation of the First Amendment for us to draw public attention to,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Once that happened, the Harper Police Department quickly realized the folly of its ways.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with almost 24,000 nonreligious members across the country, including nearly 150 members in Kansas.