In a debate gaining attention across the country, Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap added this week “In God We Trust” decals to all marked and some unmarked units.
“A couple sheriff buddies of mine — Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats and Paulding County Sheriff Gary Gulledge — [led to the idea]. Johnny Moats was really the one that started it here in North Georgia. I’m not sure where it originated in the United States, but there are other sheriffs throughout the nation that are doing it,” he said. “It just seemed like a great idea to me.”
Indeed, the sheriff’s vehicle was the first to bear the sticker, lettered in bold, black type. Donated by a company that wished to remain anonymous, the decals will, by today, be on 100-plus marked units and on the windows of unmarked Criminal Investigation Division vehicles.
“I want people to understand it’s not about what religion you are; it has nothing to do with that. It’s about America. Our country was built on ‘In God We Trust.’ ... This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and we need to get back to what founded this country. We need to get back to those basics,” Millsap said. “You can have the freedom to be here, and we all need to come together.
“... It’s not just trying to make it a law enforcement thing. It’s about patriotism, and it’s about being an American. It’s about being in a land where you can have freedom.”
“In God We Trust” became the United States’ motto in 1956. Although it first appeared on coins in the 1860s, it did not appear on paper currency until 1957.
“We’re not trying to shove it down anybody’s throat, but like I said, this is not about what religion you are. This is about, if you live in America, then this is what our country was founded on, the principles that our country was founded on,” Millsap said. “... I mean, it’s on our currency. ... You have the option in the state of Georgia and in other states that you can, instead of having the county you reside in, you can have ‘In God We Trust’ on your tag. So it’s not about religion. It’s about freedom and America.”
City of Cartersville Police Chief Tommy Culpepper, however, sees the sensitivity in such a decision.
“My answer is based on my belief that I owe it to the community to separate the duties of my position from my personal beliefs, when possible. If I am unable to do that, I believe that I have no choice but to step away from my position,” said the chief, who will retire Nov. 30. “My duty is to serve the entire population of the city, regardless of their religious beliefs, even if they differ from mine. In the end, I certainly understand the desire of agencies to reinforce the basic principles that our Founding Fathers used to established this nation. I fully agree with them. The phrase is on our currency, why not on other government locales?”
Yet the decals will not appear on Cartersville Police Department vehicles.
“For my part, I am not inclined to take similar action in an effort to not create a point of contention where none is needed, especially with the microscope under which we find law enforcement these days,” he said. “There are enough challenges for us to face each day without inviting the potential for unnecessary controversy. Controversy only seems to get in the way of doing our job.”
Millsap said feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with any negative comments coming from those outside Bartow County.
“I’ve had positive feedback from folks in Bartow County,” he said. “... When it was first kind of hinted at on Facebook, I got an email from a guy — I don’t think he was from around here — ... with a little smart comment. We’ve had a couple others that sent it, another couple of negative ones, but from the voters here and the citizens of Bartow County, I’ve had nothing but positive comments about it.”
As of Wednesday evening, of the 69 comments on the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office (Official) Facebook page post about the decals, just a few were negative.
Chip McQuire of Woodstock wrote, “Way to go! You just made it to where anyone of any religion can post on there police cruisers. Don’t be mad when a Buddhist or Muslim cop wants to put on for their religion.”
And Zach Brooks asked, “What about my gods?”
But, for others, it was a positive move by Millsap.
“What a great example, lets see if other counties maybe even states follow suit. Would be great..,” said Colleen Hanrahan Neubauer.