Over winter, the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Police Department urged followers on Twitter to “throw some change in the Salvation Army bucket” and meet two high-ranking officers at a nearby Macy’s where they were ringing a bell on behalf of the organization.
Come see the Chief and Sgt. Houck at the Macy's south door pic.twitter.com/NlTKhQW4TD
— Tulsa Police (@TulsaPolice) December 22, 2017
The problem with this apparent act of charity was that the Salvation Army isn’t just some random group doing good work. It’s a religious group that aims to evangelize and holds doctrinal positions against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
I have no doubt the police officers meant well and weren’t thinking of the religious aspect of the group, but once the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legal fellow Christopher Line informed them of the problem, it should’ve been the end of it. There are countless charities to work with over the holidays and the department could easily have found another worthwhile group to partner with while avoiding any church/state issues.
The department never took down those tweets, which FFRF requested, but they stopped shilling for the Salvation Army. FFRF wasn’t threatening a lawsuit but they didn’t pursue this any further.
I thought the controversy was resolved, too, until I saw this editorial in today’s Tulsa World.
It’s a strange piece. The writers fully admit FFRF is right, and the police shouldn’t be promoting the Salvation Army, but somehow, they criticize the atheists for pointing out the problem. They also admit FFRF wasn’t planning on suing the police department… then criticize FFRF for maybe kinda sorta being in a position where they might have sued.
A group of atheists has driven the Tulsa Police Department from its tradition of ringing bells at Salvation Army kettles at Christmastime.
That’s a shame.
That said, [Police Chief Chuck] Jordan made the right call in walking away from the kettles. Part of his job is to protect the police department from avoidable lawsuits; and, while there was no threat of litigation in the Freedom From Religion Foundation letter, the tactics of similar groups are well known.
It’s a shame that a group of atheist zealots are trying to prevent Tulsa Police from helping the city’s poorest people; but it’s hard to see how they could similarly complain if a private group — say the local Fraternal Order of Police — were to organize a group of its members to join the Salvation Army’s cause on their own time and out of uniform (but perhaps wearing FOP T-shirts).
Who the hell wrote this? Editorials are supposed to have a position, and this one takes all of them. It’s like they want to be mad at FFRF but can’t find any credible reason to be angry. So they just attack them anyway. How else do you explain the suggestion that atheists stopped the police from working with the Salvation Army, even though the piece admits the police chief “made the right call” in not working with them? If the police weren’t doing anything illegal, they don’t have to fear a lawsuit. Jordan recognized FFRF was making a good point and followed the group’s advice.
Nobody — not FFRF or atheist “zealots” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) — ever prevented the police department from helping the city’s poorest people. But surely the taxpayer-funded employees can find a way to do that without promoting religion in the process. (If the police officers worked with the Salvation Army or another private religious group, off the clock and out of uniform, that would not be a problem.)
This editorial should have thanked the atheists for helping the local police (and therefore the taxpayers) avoid a lawsuit. But because they were unable to suck it up and admit any mistakes, they criticized FFRF for doing the right thing.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)