BONIFAY - A handful of protesters gathered at the Bonifay Police Department Sunday to demonstrate against the recent adding of "In God We Trust" decals to Bonifay patrol cars.
Life-long Bonifay resident Wesley Wilson organized the protest and was joined by representatives from the Bay County Atheists, as well as from The Original Motto Project, a Granite Falls, Washington based organization seeking to have tax-payer funded agencies that display "In God We Trust" also display "E Pluribus Unum."
18-year-old Wesley says he organized the protest against what he believes is a violation of the public's constitutional right to separation of church and state.
"Society works better when state and church are kept separate because it creates a fair and equal place for all of us to live," said Wesley. "The saying 'In God We Trust' that has been put on public property violates that … Law enforcement is here to serve everyone, and that saying (isn't representative) of all who live here."
Atheists of Bay County representative Elias Broadstreet, who recently organized a similar protest in Lynn Haven, calls the decals "dangerous."
"Putting Christian stickers on the back of law enforcement vehicles sets a Christian tone for law enforcement," said Broadstreet. "This is dangerous to minorities."
Nikki Simon, who lives in Washington County, was also on hand to protest the stickers. Simon says some may be surprised to learn she's not Atheist but still supports the removal of the decals.
"This isn't a question of religion," she said. "It's a question of Constitutional violations."
Supporters of Bonifay Police Chief Chris Wells were also at the protest to show their support for Wells, outnumbering the protesters with more than 300 present. Wells says while he understands the point the protesters are trying to make, he isn't backing down.
"I understand their stance that they see this as a violation of separation of church and state; however 'In God We Trust' is our national motto and has actually been on our patrol cars since the 80s, inside our seal. We simply brought it to the forefront."
Robert Ray of the The Original Motto Project says if it’s the desire of the department to display the national motto, that his organization will provide a different kind of sticker.
"I am so glad that your office is taking an interest in displaying our national motto," Ray said in a letter to Wells last week. "We would like to offer our own stickers to be displayed alongside the 'In God We Trust' stickers. These, however, would read "E Pluribus Unum". We feel that this phrase will provide an inclusive statement to the citizens of the city of Bonifay."
Ray recently made similar offers to the Holmes County Sheriff's Office, Chipley Police Department, Washington County Sheriff's Office, and Bay County Sheriff's Office but says he has not received a reply from any of the local agencies.
Meanwhile, Wells says community response to the decals has been mostly supportive.
"I'm overwhelmed at the amount of support we've receive from the community," said Wells. "From calls, to texts and posts on social media, it's clear the people of Bonifay are behind this effort."