Texas governor blasts 'malicious' atheist group for challenging 'In God We Trust' motto on cop cars
Greg Abbott speaking at FreePac, hosted by FreedomWorks, in Phoenix, Arizona (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbottlent his full support to the Childress Police Department, which recently came under firefor displaying the motto "In God We Trust" on its patrol vehicles.

The move by the department drew criticism from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national secular and church-state watchdog group that called the use of the phrase exclusionary. Last week, two state lawmakers who represent the community asked Paxton for a formal opinion on whether displaying the motto is legal. State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, support the police department.

Abbott, the state's former attorney general, cited case law in his letter, saying the motto has survived previous legal challenges for more than 40 years.

"There can be no doubt that courts in Texas would uphold the constitutionality of the Childress Police Department's decision to place 'In God We Trust' on the department's patrol vehicles," Abbott said in the letter. "If the Childress Police Department chooses to continue this patriotic display, it will have my full support."

He went on to attack the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"Misguided and malicious threats have become routine for groups like the FFRF. In December 2011, the FFRF sent a letter threatening to sue Henderson County, Texas, if the county refused to take down a nativity display on the courthouse grounds," he wrote. "In December 2014, the American Humanist Association sent a similar letter to the county judge in Cherokee County, Texas, demanding the removal of a courthouse nativity display. As attorney general, I offered my support to both counties in the event that the organizations followed through with the lawsuits. Neither organization followed through with the threat."

Abbott also had kind words for Paxton, who is facing his own legal challenge — an indictment on securities fraud charges.

"I am grateful that under your leadership, the Office of the Attorney General fights to vigorously defend rights that are so important to all Texans," Abbott wrote.

By Johnathan Silver, The Texas Tribune