Several county residents had reported to the national state/church watchdog that the Dare County Sheriff’s Office was planning to hold a “faith based” camp (as the Sheriff’s Office’s official Facebook page had been declaring it) for children during the summer called “Camp S.A.L.T.” The camp, which has been run by the Sheriff’s Office for many years, included religious worship.
“Kids will pray and thank God for the day, that nobody got hurt. It’s amazing to hear what these kids actually pray for,” Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie told a local paper. “They pray for each other — that’s the amazing part. They know what’s going on, they pray about health, even at the young age that they are.”
The Dare County Sheriff’s Office’s endorsement of religion posed serious constitutional concerns, FFRF emphasized.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from hosting or endorsing religious events or activities,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Doughtie. “By hosting a ‘faith based’ camp that includes religious worship, the Sheriff’s Office creates the appearance that it endorses religion.”
Minority religious and nonreligious citizens should not be made to feel excluded, like outsiders in their own community, because the Sheriff’s Office that they support with their taxes oversteps its power by hosting a faith-based event for the county’s children, FFRF stressed, and asked that the Sheriff’s Office immediately end all government-sponsored religious activities or worship events from the camp and cease advertising it as “faith based.”
The sheriff took heed of FFRF’s exhortation. As “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta writes (emphasis his): The sheriff listened.
Mehta adds that Doughtie posted a message on Facebook explaining why his camp would drop the faith aspect:
A statement from one of the people that posted on our Facebook account was “There are many in our community that are not Christian or not religious at all and the Sheriff’s Office should be well attuned to that. Why would these children be made to feel “other” at a County camp?”
When I read that statement I realized that it shouldn’t make any child feel that way. This camp was established to offer an opportunity for kids who would be at home by themselves during the summer because their parents worked or for whatever the reason might be.
FFRF is pleased that its communication brought about this realization in the sheriff.
“We’re glad that Sheriff Doughtie had this epiphany about the discrimination inherent in a faith-based camp — and we’re happy that we played a role in preventing this unconstitutional government sponsorship of religious evangelizing of children,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 36,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a local chapter in North Carolina. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.