Back in March, on Easter, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office in Cleveland, Tennessee very deliberately promoted Christianity on its official Facebook page:
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.
“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 cared. 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.”
It’s not a question of funding. Watson is in a government position; that means he can’t promote religion while on the job.
Watson said it was all okay, though, because he didn’t believe there were 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 I guess I was 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.)
One other interesting note in the lawsuit: In addition to the religious proselytizing, when the plaintiff criticized the sheriff’s actions on Facebook, he deleted her comments as if he were in high school, while leaving the positive responses up. Which makes you wonder when he actually gets any work done on behalf of the taxpayers…
“This lawsuit is about protecting the community’s First Amendment right to speak out about its elected officials,” said American Atheists’ National Legal Director, Amanda Knief. “The BCSO had no problem with public comments until they were critical of the sheriff or of his proselytizing at work. But the government doesn’t get to silence speech it doesn’t like — even if that speech is negative, unflattering, and disrespectful of the sheriff’s religion.”
American Atheists and Jane Doe are seeking a permanent restraining order preventing censorship of social media comments and preventing the use of government social media for the sheriff to proselytize.
I had no idea that government officials acting like teenagers when it comes to Facebook comments was illegal, but the proselytizing sure is. They had a chance to do the right thing multiple times. Now, if they lose, they’ll have to cough up some cash as well.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)