There’s no problem with government officials saying “Merry Christmas” because it’s just acknowledging what members of the community believe. And we’ve seen that courts won’t budge if a fire department chief puts “In God We Trust” signs on all the vehicles because judges consider it a generic message and not promotion of religion.
But what the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office in Cleveland, Tennessee did on its Facebook page isn’t even ambiguous. On Easter, Sheriff Eric Watson posted this:
Today is one of the most historic days; not only did Jesus die on the cross for our sins, but he rose on this day! Luke 24:2-3 says, “And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Mankind was redeemed forevermore when he was resurrected from the grave.
Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice, and offered himself for our sins. This day represents the best gift any of us could receive, which is “Eternal Life” with our Heavenly Father!!!
That’s not just a promotion of Christianity. That’s the writing style of a second grader who just learned what exclamation points were.
The American Atheists Legal Center sent a letter to Watson warning him against this illegal proselytizing, noting that they knew it wasn’t his first time doing something like this:
“A quick look back on the BSCO Facebook page and website found additional references to Christianity made by the sheriff, including:
– Feb. 29: In a post titled “The Time We Live In,” the sheriff states that “Living today is best done with a lot of prayer.” Sheriff Watson also writes that he is aghast that used tires were dumped in a church lot, and notes that a ‘man of God’ he knew has died recently.
– Dec. 21, 2015: In a post about the winter solstice, Sheriff Watson ends by stating ‘Moreover, as we say at the BCSO, Merry Christmas!’
– On the official BCSO website, Sheriff Watson offers a 12-second video welcome that ends with him saying ‘God bless you.’”
Again, any one of those things might not be a big deal, but when they’re part of a trend that includes blatant promotion of Christianity on the department’s website, it’s clear that the person in charge of defending the law is more than eager to break it himself.
Not that Watson cares. He responded by saying he wouldn’t change a damn thing:
“When I campaigned for the office of sheriff, and before that, the office of state representative, I never made any effort to hide or deny my strong, personal Christian faith,” Watson said.
“It is this faith that has guided me throughout my life, and I thank God every day for parents who instilled in their children their own personal beliefs and values.”
Watson said the Facebook posts “are not taxpayer funded.”
“There is no charge involved with our Facebook page,” he said. “It is not government-funded.”
No one’s stopping him from sharing his faith in his personal life. If it helps him get elected, fine. But once he’s in a government position, and wearing that hat as he posts on the department’s official Facebook page, his personal beliefs have to take a backseat to the Constitution.
Watson says it’s all okay though, because he doesn’t believe there are any atheists in law enforcement:
“I can’t imagine any law enforcement officer who, on a daily basis, goes out and risks losing their lives not having faith of some sort,” Watson said. “Now that I serve as Bradley County’s sheriff, those beliefs and values are more important to me than ever.”
And I can’t imagine someone this ignorant heading up a Sheriff’s department, but looks like I’m wrong, too. Of course there are atheists in law enforcement — they trust their colleagues and their skills, not an angel from above. No one’s taking off their bulletproof vests because they think God is watching over them.
American Atheists hasn’t said if a lawsuit is forthcoming, but Watson doesn’t look like he’s going to stop preaching from his position anytime soon. Needless to say, if an atheist did the same thing he was doing, using his office and its resources to tell people God didn’t exist, the Christian Right would be fuming. The double-standard doesn’t get more clear than this.