HOUSTON COUNTY, Ala. — A sheriff in Alabama has removed a Scripture decal from all of his patrol vehicles upon recommendation following the threat of a lawsuit from a prominent church-state separation group.
As previously reported, in July, Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza purchased decals citing Matthew 5:9, and quoting the Scripture in part, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
“I’ve always had religious belief, and I feel like that’s kept me alive,” he told the Dothan Eagle. “It symbolizes the Houston County Sheriff’s Office.”
The Sheriff’s Department posted a photo of the decal on its Facebook page, which sparked discussion from both sides.
“Thank you for having the courage to display the decal! Maybe others will follow,” remarked on commenter named Mike.
“It is inappropriate for the sheriff’s office to display Bible verses on county property,” asserted another named William. “Religious statements have no place on sheriff’s department vehicles.”
But according to reports, the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent two letters to the sheriff’s department, demanding that the decals be removed under threat of a lawsuit.
Houston County Administrator Bill Dempsey told the Dothan Eagle this week that county officials spoke to local attorneys, as well as their insurance carrier, and weren’t desirous of entering a costly legal battle.
“[W]e contacted our liability insurance carrier and their attorneys said, if we take this to court, they said we’re going to lose,” he said. “The county would be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses.”
But several commissioners in the county state that they believe the decals should have remained despite the threat.
“I still stand firm on the symbol on the stickers,” Curtis Harvey told the outlet. “I wish he would put them back on. I just feel like when God is on our side we can’t go anywhere but forward.”
He said that he has been receiving numerous phone calls about the decals after it was learned that the sheriff removed them.
“If the citizens of the county would find out where to get those decals and how to get them and put those decals on their cars like [Valenza] did, that would show the people are standing up for what they believe in,” added Commissioner Doug Sinquefield.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has also sent Valenza a letter, demanding that the decals be removed because they promote Christianity with taxpayer dollars.
“Placing decals that literally quote chapter and verse on Houston County property is a clear endorsement of Christianity, especially when the quote is viewed in its full context,” it read. “[It] alienates the nearly 30 percent of Americans who are non-Christian.”