In 2010, I wrote about Polk County (Florida) Sheriff Grady Judd. At the time, he was removing basketball hoops from the local prison and giving them away to local churches. When Judd was asked why he wouldn’t give the hoops to a secular organization, his response (referencing an atheist group) was, “Why should I kowtow?”… as if giving them to a public school meant bolstering the “atheist agenda.”
In April of this year, I posted about how Judd delivered a guest sermon at First Baptist Church on the Mall — it was called “Wouldn’t the World be Better if Everyone Behaved Like a Christian” — and he didn’t do it as a private citizen. He delivered it while wearing his sheriff uniform, suggesting that he was speaking as a government official:
About 15 minutes in, he explains how he created “faith-based dorms” for people in prison (at no cost to taxpayers, he added, thinking that makes it legal) and helped convert many prisoners to Christianity.(It’s not the only time he’s spoken at the church, either.)
EllenBeth Wachs, who tipped me off to this, also did a public records request on this matter, which turned up sermon notes from 2013. This was a speech promoting Christianity sent from the sheriff’s office to a pastor. It suggested that we live in a Christian Nation and included a rant about those nasty atheists who tried to stop him from giving basketball hoops to a church.
This is a man incapable of separating church and state. He’s shown it time and time again. He equates Christianity with goodness, which doesn’t bode well for people looking for justice who don’t believe in his imaginary friend.
Promoting your personal religion using your Polk County title and uniform gives the unfortunate impression that the county supports and endorses the First Baptist Church on the Mall and its religious teachings…
Of course you are free to attend church, preach at your church, and even teach Sunday school. But you cannot preach in church as Sheriff Judd, you must do so as Mr. Judd, private citizen. In your personal capacity you can freely exercise your religion as you see fit. In your official capacity as an officer of the government, you are bound by the Establishment Clause and cannot abuse that office to promote your personal religious choices.
FFRF wants, in writing, a response from Judd with a promise he won’t use his official title (or anything associated with it) when giving sermons in the future.
The ball is in his court… Does the sheriff want to follow the law or put himself on the losing end of a lawsuit?
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)