A North Carolina sheriff’s department began placing large “In God We Trust” decals on its patrol cars this month in a project officials are quick to say won't cost taxpayers a dime.

The phrase is being added to marked vehicles used by the Rutherford Sheriff Department and with the Fairview Baptist Church in Golden Valley picking up the $400 tab, it could head off complaints from atheists that the decals amount to illegal government support of religion.

“We’re not doing to this to thumb in the eye anyone. We’re trying to do this for unity’s sake."

- Rev. David Ledford

“We looked at it as an opportunity to show our patriotism,” Sheriff Chris Francis told Fox Carolina. “I want to make sure that my deputy sheriffs know what ‘In God We Trust' means and how blessed we are to be citizens in America, to live in western North Carolina and to be able to support our nation’s motto.”

Wisconsin-based atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation has clashed with dozens of police departments around the country over similar stickers.

"FFRF reminds the agencies that citizens trust law enforcement officers to attend to their secular duties, not spend taxpayer time placing religious messages on patrol cars to the exclusion of the 23 percent of Americans who are not religious," reads a letter the foundation sent to departments, including Rutherford.

Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor concludes the letters asking the departments to remove "In God We Trust" from their vehicles to "respect the rights of conscience of all citizens, including those who in good conscience reject belief in a god."

But Rutherford officials believe the church paying for the stickers removes any reasonable objection. The church funding will pay for decals on the department’s fleet of 50 marked vehicles and any additions or replacements.

Francis said he expects the decals to draw positive feedback fron many but acknowledged that not everyone will be happy.

Nevertheless, he said he hopes other sheriffs will follow suit.

“I wish that more localities would show their patriotism, show what they believe in,” he said. “I think our nation would be in a different place if they would.”

Fairview pastor the Rev. David Ledford told FoxNews.com he has been surprised at the reaction, including some criticism on social media.

“We’re not doing to this to thumb in the eye anyone,” the pastor said. “We’re trying to do this for unity’s sake.

“The way we look at it, if somebody is against it, well they carry money in their billfold that says ‘In God We Trust’ on it,'" he said. "Its’ contrary to say we can’t put something like that on government building  or a government vehicle.”