A sheriff in Tennessee reportedly brought a group of nine state felons, who were in civilian clothes and seemingly unguarded, to a church service in May of 2017.
Oddly enough, it’s a Christian political action committee that’s speaking out against this practice, which they say puts the public in danger. The sheriff “disregarded court imposed prison sentences” and misled the public, according to an announcement from Christians for Accountable Leadership.
As an organization, Christians For Accountable Leadership fully supports and recommends the use of Christian based programs to rehabilitate inmates.
However, misleading and endangering the public will not be tolerated by the citizens of Bradley County or Christians For Accountable Leadership.
These nine individuals carry extensive convictions, including multiple probation violations and should have never been allowed to be in close proximity to the public, let alone children.
When a group that supports proselyting to prisoners says this sheriff went too far by taking inmates to church, it should tell us something.
In a Facebook post after the May 21, 2017, visit to Council Baptist Church, Watson talked about how the “former inmates” had changed their lives because of programs in the Bradley County Jail.
Photos showed 10 men speaking to and mingling with the congregation, standing in the choir and interacting with children.
But nine of those men weren’t “former” inmates, the Tennessee Department of Correction confirmed Wednesday. They were all state prisoners, serving sentences in the Bradley jail. Among them, their convictions included vehicular homicide, selling drugs, theft and violating probation on a variety of crimes. One of them was on the Bradley County Top Ten most-wanted list at one point.
The tenth man was a former inmate, records show.
I don’t know if this church-prison program is truly dangerous to the public, although this Christian watchdog group seems to think so, the inmates were photographed in street clothes with no sign of restraints, and no deputies appeared to be on guard. I do know, however, that lying about what you’re doing makes things seem shady and this sort of rehab project arguably violates church/state separation.
Of course, the pastor of the church defended the felons’ visit to the church, deflecting from the fact that most of them were current inmates. And he did it by citing the Bible, saying “even Jesus was arrested.”
We have people every Sunday within churches all across America that is in some process of adjudication, and even Jesus was arrested. As pastor, we never felt threatened by those attending the service and several officers were present during the meeting. If almost 30% of Americans have been arrested, then you and I likely and unknowingly interact with more prior inmates each day than we had in our meeting that Sunday.
The difference here is that most of the people we interact with who have been convicted of a crime have served their required time, and these people have not. They were also convicted for some pretty major crimes, so the stats are a little disingenuous.
This isn’t even a first offense for Watson, who cost taxpayers in the county $41,000 by promoting Christianity on the department’s official Facebook page. Even after that incident was settled, he still put “In God We Trust” stickers on the backs of all the department’s vehicles.
As the Christians For Accountable Leadership group said in its recent statement, “This is yet another example of Sheriff Watson’s poor judgement as he chases his blind ambition at the expense of the safety of Bradley County citizens.”
By my count, this is at least Watson’s third strike. How many more does he get before he’s thrown out?
(Image via Facebook)