Back in June, Undersheriff Steve Harker of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida sent an email to all staff members praising them for their work and warning them against saying anything inflammatory online that they wouldn’t want spread in the media. There was nothing weird about that request, per se. When I worked as a public school teacher, there was an implicit understanding that our emails could one day end up on the front page of a newspaper — the point being, we should always remain professional. Work emails weren’t the place to air your grievances (or controversial opinions).
But Harker’s letter was a problem in and of itself because it was peppered with Bible verses and Christian language. He even told the staff to “do as Scripture teaches.” Whether that was proselytizing is up for debate. Still, Harker’s Christianity was permitted in a way that would never be allowed for any other religion.
It led Deputy David Holt to speak out against the breach of church/state separation:
Holt identified himself in his email as a “person with Native American descent” and states “my spiritual beliefs do no(t) line up with this administration’s beliefs.” He accuses Harker, Sheriff Larry Ashley and others within the administration of providing frequent “religious, Christian based scriptures through email.”
“All of the aforementioned incidents are in contrast to Sheriff’s Office Policy and policies of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” the email said.
Holt states that Maj. Eric Aden, who has been elected to succeed Ashley as sheriff, must be complicit in the violations of policy being committed in the name of promoting Christian values “because most of the administration has and are sending the same type emails.”
“I don’t want to be influenced any longer by this administration’s religious beliefs and religious fanaticism. I should not be forced to make quick, life and death decisions and possibly take away someone’s freedom based on biblical scriptures,” Holt wrote. “The thoughts that keep me up at night are ones that involve how I will conduct my lawful duties when I must juggle the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Bill of Rights, state statutes, Sheriff’s Office policies and now the Holy Bible.”
It was a courageous thing for Holt to do! Good for him for actually respecting the Constitution. How can a Sheriff’s Office protect the law when its leaders are actively defying it?
But in true Christian Nationalist form, Holt — the whistleblower, not the guy breaking the law — has been punished.
According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, Holt was “placed on paid administrative leave while an internal investigation is conducted related to his response.” By basically “replying all” to that email instead of privately raising his concerns to a boss who thinks law enforcement is a place to broadcast his religion, Holt violated department policy. He also raised a series of additional concerns with how the office is run — legitimate concerns that ought to be addressed.
But there’s been no public response to the problems raised by Holt. Not yet. After 25 years on the force, Holt is in trouble while the Christians running the place continue feeling justified in pushing their religion on everyone else.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Alex for the link)