Wisconsin Police Department Removes Prayer Plaque Following Atheist Complaint

ONALASKA, Wisc. — A police department in Wisconsin has removed a prayer plaque from its walls following receipt of a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent a letter to the Onalaska Police Department after being informed by a local resident—who it left anonymous—that a “Police Officer’s Prayer” plaque had been displayed on the wall in a public area of the police station.

“Lord, I ask you to be with me in a very special way as I face the challenges that I must face each day,” it reads in part. “Please give to me compassion for the innocent I see. Help me to protect and serve those who depend upon me.”

FFRF asserted that the display was unconstitutional because it called upon God for strength for the duty.

“While it is laudable for the OPD to recognize the challenges officers face and to promote compassion and courage in law enforcement, these sentiments may not be couched in the religious message that a God should be [the] officers’ ‘guide’ in their work, and is responsible for officers’ success and safety,” its correspondence read.

“Anyone viewing this display would understand the OPD to be endorsing religion and belief in a God,” it said.

The organization also contended that the prayer plaque could make those who identify as atheists and agnostics to feel like outsiders in their community.

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“The OPD’s religious display conveys a message to nonreligious citizens that they are not favored members of the political community,” FFRF wrote. “These citizens should not be made to feel excluded, like outsiders in their own community, because the local law enforcement they support with their taxes prominently places religious messages in the police station.”

The Church-State separation group consequently requested that the prayer plaque be removed, and on April 13, Police Chief Jeffrey Trotnic responded with a one-sentence reply simply reading, “The item in question has been removed.”

FFRF cheered the news that the display had been removed from the walls of the police station.

“Nonbelievers in Onalaska will now feel fully included, as they should be in our secular state,” said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement.

President John Adams proclaimed in March 1798, just 12 years after the signing of the U.S. Constitution, “[T]he safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depends on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgement of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness cannot exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed.”

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