FFRF criticizes sermonizing Fla. sheriff

Polk County Sheriff Preaching
Screenshot from First Baptist Church on the Mall website.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation today sent a letter to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in protest of the sheriff delivering sermons in uniform at Lakeland, Florida's First Baptist Church on the Mall.

Judd, as a guest preacher, regularly gives sermons at the church. Most recently, he delivered a sermon titled "Wouldn't the World Be Better If Everyone Behaved Like a Christian" at an April 19, 2015 service. In the sermon, Judd claims that God ordains his profession and asserts that the best way to reform people who have broken the law is through Jesus. Judd's sermon is featured on the church's website, which lists the "preacher" as "Sheriff Grady Judd."

FFRF sent the sheriff a letter of complaint today. "Promoting your personal religion using your Polk County title and uniform gives the unfortunate impression that the county supports and endorses the First Baptist Church on the Mall and its religious teachings," said Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

FFRF points out that Judd represents a diverse population that consists of more than just Christians, and that the message of endorsement sent by sermonizing in uniform sends a message of exclusion to those non-Christians.

"In your official capacity as an officer of the government, you are bound by the Establishment Clause and cannot abuse that office to promote your personal religious choices," wrote Seidel.

Judd also supported faith-based jailing in his sermon. Pointing to a study by Phil Zuckerman, Seidel noted that the least religious countries in the world actually have the lowest rates of crime and score highest on women's rights and gender equality, among other positives. Meanwhile, the most religious states in the nation have the highest rates of poverty, violent crime, and other societal ills. "Your claim that increased religiosity lowers crime is simply nonsense," Seidel explained to Judd.

FFRF asks Judd to refrain from giving sermons dressed in his sheriff's uniform at title in the future. "You cannot preach in church as Sheriff Judd, you must do so as Mr. Judd, private citizen," says FFRF.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 22,500 members across the country, including over 1,100 in Florida.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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