FFRF recently sent a letter to the Ashe County Sheriff's Office, based in Jefferson, objecting to a "Time of Prayer" event it was scheduled to host on Saturday, June 24. Highlighting the event was a prayer led by Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the celebrity evangelist Billy Graham and sister of Franklin Graham.
FFRF expressed worry that Ashe County officers, and perhaps Sheriff Terry Buchanan, would make an appearance at the event in their official uniforms and might speak using government titles to promote the religious event. This, FFRF reminded the sheriff's office, would have exacerbated the appearance that the sheriff's office endorses Christianity. The Ashe County Sheriff's Office promptly addressed this concern.
"No uniformed officer or deputy will be speaking or participating in the event," wrote an attorney representing the Ashe County Sheriff's Office. "Mr. Buchanan may give a brief introduction of Ms. Lotz, but it would be without introduction of himself and without use of a title or uniform. The only presence of any uniformed officer would be consistent with their normal routine of patrol and other law enforcement duties."
The sheriff's office had previously made changes addressing FFRF's objection to the office's entanglement with religion by promoting the event on its official website and social media accounts. Responding to FFRF's warning, the department ceased advertising for the event and removed mention of it from the sheriff's office's website. Additionally, the event was relocated from the steps of the sheriff's office to the parking lot.
"The Ashe County Sheriff's Office did the right thing by avoiding involving itself in a Christian prayer event and estranging non-Christian community members," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, referring to the approximately 30 percent of Americans who do not identify with Christianity. "The Ashe County officers should focus on their secular duties citizens trust them with."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization, with more than 29,000 nonreligious members and chapters all over the country, including 600-plus members in North Carolina and a state chapter, the Triangle Freethought Society.