SIDNEY — Two simple statements — “For God and Country” and “In God We Trust” — has resulted in communication from two national organizations.
One — Freedom From Religion Foundation — states that employees of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office can’t wear an American flag patch on their uniform with the saying “For God and Country.” They claim it’s a violation of the constitutional principle of separation between the state and church.
The other — Foundation for Moral Law — is supporting the employees’ right to wear the patch. The organization feels the message and patch are both constitutional and appropriate. In fact, in the letter sent to the Sheriff’s Office, the Foundation for Moral Law states if the Freedom From Religion Foundation takes legal action against the office, they will assist Shelby County in its defense.
Plus an editorial opinion column recently published in the Sidney Daily News and penned by Jerry Turner has called for the Sheriff’s Office to remove the sticker “In God We Trust” from the cruisers driven by the deputies.
“A lot of the liberties our society enjoys are because of the sacrifices of our veterans,” said Chief Deputy Jim Frye, who is a U.S. Marine veteran. Frye was standing in for Sheriff John Lenhart in his weekly column.
“There are 14 million people serving in the US military today,” said Frye. “The VA says there are 22 million veterans in the United States. A total of 7.3 percent of all living Americans have served in the military.”
Turner, he said, has a right to his opinion, as does the Freedom From Religion Foundation. However, said Frye, the two statements are not a religious statement, but rather a feeling that law enforcement officers rely on when they put their badge and gun on and head out to work each day.
“Fourteen employees at the Sheriff’s Office are veterans,” said Frye. “People take a lot of liberties that we have for granted. They have been given to us by the veterans who have sacrificed — sometimes given their lives — for their country.
“And now we have people attack us because we have stickers on our cruisers that say ‘In God We Trust’,” said Frye. “The First Amendment allows Jerry to have his freedom of speech. His opinions can differ from mine. All citizens have the right to freedom of speech.
“People interpret things different ways. All of us have the right to exercise our beliefs,” said Frye. “This county is a faith-based community.”
Frye said Turner did contact the Sheriff’s Office about the sticker and talked to a detective about it.
“It was a day where the sheriff and I were out of the office,” said Frye.”If he really wanted to write about it, he could have waited and asked our viewpoint.
“This is a great country and a great county,” said Frye. “We have a great religious heritage and you can’t take that away from us.”
Frye said religion doesn’t have an place in how the deputies do their jobs on a daily basis.
“If we go know on someone’s door, we don’t ask them what religion they are before we help them,” said Frye. “We are here to serve all residents of the county.”
Frye said the recent letters to the editor in the SDN, along with more than 150 emails sent to the office, supports both slogans appearing on the deputies’ uniforms and vehicles.
“Each deputy takes home a car owned by the county,” said Frye. Each deputy was asked whether they wanted the sticker ‘In God We Trust’ on their vehicle or not. Only one deputy requested the sticker not be placed on his vehicle.”
Deputy Joel Howell, who was shot at on Oct. 24, 2016, by a suspect, says that God saved him that night.
“When we leave our homes every day, we don’t know if we’ll return home that night,” said Frye. “We couldn’t get the stickers on the vehicles fast enough. Joel went out and bought one and put it on his vehicle himself.”
When a deputy pulls over a vehicle, said Frye, the person in that vehicle cannot see the sticker on the deputy’s vehicle.
“The sticker is a motto for us,” said Frye. “I’ve talked to Joel and the other deputies here. They have faith in their job and they don’t know if they are coming home or not. If that sticker helps them and is their guardian angel, we’re going to let them have that (motto).”
Frye said the US Court of Appeals and Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the motto, “In God We Trust,” has nothing to do with religion.
“It’s not an establishment of religion,” said Frye.
“Other agencies wear this same patch,” said Frye. “Other sheriff’s office wear this patch. Other police departments wear this patch. We didn’t make it up.”
Frye said he does “wear his faith on his shoulder,” and that’s something he’s proud of.
The Sheriff’s Office also received a phone call from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. They told Frye they were getting emails about the patches the deputies were wearing. The AG’s office said all the emails were in support of the patch.
Frye said he has answered any letter sent to the Sheriff’s Office concerning the patch and sticker.
“It’s been amazing the support we’ve received,” said Frye. “We may get sued and we may not get sued.”
“I was angry about the column and letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation at first,” said Frye. “I talked to different people including some sheriffs. John Lenhart told me to ‘let it go’ and ‘to fight the battle when they bring the battle to us.’ We don’t have anything to hide. The patch will remain on the uniforms. The stickers will remain on the vehicles.
“We, as an office, shouldn’t be wasting our time with this. We should be worrying about the people we serve,” he said. “These people don’t walk in our shoes everyday. They don’t put on their gun belt and then hope and pray they don’t have to use their gun that night.
“The deputies have to believe in something to get them through everything that they see on the job,” he said. “The deputies are the first line of defense on the streets. They see children in abusive situations. They see a person who kills himself. They see the person who has slit their wrists. They see the person who has died in a horrific crash.”
And with the deputies as they do their jobs every day will be the patch that says “For God and Country” and the simple sticker “In God We Trust.”
The writer conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.