Although the issue proved to be divisive, the Bakersfield City Council voted to approve adding “In God We Trust” decals to city police and fire vehicles at a meeting Wednesday evening.
“I love the motto,” said Councilmember Jacquie Sullivan, who requested the council vote on the issue at the last City Council meeting. “It’s meaningful. It’s powerful. Those words are intended to encourage.”
The issue was debated for about two hours in the City Council Chambers, with 30 public speakers making comments. A total of 19 of those speakers were against adding the decals to city vehicles while 11 were in favor.
Councilmembers Willie Rivera and Andrae Gonzales were the only two "no" votes on the issue, and Councilmember Bruce Freeman was absent.
Both Rivera and Gonzales said they wanted to frame the issue as a debate over city policy not over religion.
“I think it’s clear this decision doesn’t represent everybody in this community and I think this is a problem,” Rivera said, explaining his dissent.
Gonzales said he was a Christian, but still did not support the decals.
“The God I believe in is much bigger than a bumper sticker,” he said.
Still, many in the community supported the decals.
Local pastor and Bakersfield Police Department chaplain Angelo Frazier made the initial request to the council to add the nation’s motto to city police and fire vehicles, following in the city of Delano’s footsteps.
“This is our time to uphold the values of courageousness and the amazing sacrifices of those that stormed the beaches of Normandy,” Frazier said at the meeting, referencing the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which is Thursday.
The decals garnered the support of U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who spoke out in favor of the issue to The Californian earlier this week.
BPD officials did not support or object to the decals while they were being debated, instead remaining neutral. BPD Chief Lyle Martin has said he will follow whatever the council ultimately decided.
Private businesses have offered to pay for adding the decals to city vehicles, making the cost to the taxpayer likely nothing, although the details have yet to be worked out.
The American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against the decals.
ACLU attorney Jordan Wells spoke during public comment, urging the council not to add “In God We Trust” to city vehicles.
“Placing ‘In God We Trust' on police cars is bad public policy,” he said, later adding, “Unlike God, police officers are fallible. Their conduct should be scrutinized by the public, and when they overstep their authority, we must insist on accountability.”