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Atheist Group Threatens Lawsuit Over Romans 13:4 Bible Verse Decal

Harper, Kansas Police Truck

A Kansas police department has caved to pressure from the nation's largest atheist organization to remove a biblical decal from one of its patrol vehicles.

Last month, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation was prompted by a complaint from an anonymous resident and sent a demand letter to Doug Murphy, the police chief of Harper, Kansas, demanding that his department remove a decal placed on one of the municipality-owned patrol trucks.

The decal, which was located on the upper right-hand corner of the truck's tailgate, read "Romans 13:4."

Romans 13:4 states: "For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer," (NIV).

"Displaying a decal referencing this ominous quote violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," the FFRF letter states. "These decals must be removed."

The demand letter, which was signed by FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel, explained that the organization recently settled a lawsuit with the Brewster County Sheriff's department in Texas over crosses that were featured on the department's vehicles. As a result of the lawsuit, the county was forced to pay about $20,000 in fees and costs to FFRF.

The FFRF letter further argued that having a police vehicle endorse Christianity sends a signal to the 30 percent of Americans who don't identify as Christians that "they are outsiders" or "not full members of the political community."

The organization then asserted that Romans 13:4 is a "particularly disturbing" message.

"Romans 13 begins by claiming, 'there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained by God' (King James Version). The idea directly conflicts with the Constitutions source of power: 'We the people,'" the letter asserts. "There is also something perverse about referring to 'revengers,' 'bearing swords,' and 'executing wrath,' when your true job is to protect and serve."

In response to the demand letter, Murphy and Harper Mayor Scott Blubaugh sent a letter to Seidel last Tuesday to explain that the decal has been removed.

"The Harper Police Department has removed the decal 'Romans 13:4' from the city-owned vehicle it was on," the short letter reads.

According to local NBC affiliate KNSW, Blubaugh said he consulted the city's attorney before the decal was removed.

In a statement, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor rejoiced at the news that the Romans decal had been stripped from the truck.

"This was a particularly obvious violation of the First Amendment for us to draw public attention to," Gaylor argued. "Once that happened, the Harper Police Department quickly realized the folly of its ways."

Murphy was out of his office on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment by press time.

While the FFRF is celebrating their achievement, some Harper residents have said they don't understand why the threat of a lawsuit was filed over a car decal on the police vehicle.

"He has a right to have it there if he wants to," Harper resident Margaret Carrington told KNSW. "I mean, if he had another kind of sticker, does that make a difference?"

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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