FFRF to Tenn. police department: Paint over religious verse

The Freedom From Religion Foundation says the Bartlett Police Department in west-central Tennessee needs to paint over a religious verse in its headquarters.

FFRF has been informed that the department has religious quotes on the wall of its building. A New Testament verse is emblazoned below an American flag: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9.”

“Paintings that quote chapter and verse from the New Testament on BPD property are a clear promotion of Christianity,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Hirsh M. Joshi writes to Bartlett Police Department Chief Jeff Cox.

Placing a biblical quote in government buildings fails to respect the First Amendment, FFRF emphasizes. This is explicitly a Christian quote — and only a Christian quote. Hence, it endorses religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths.

Citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives, FFRF points out. These citizens should not be made to feel alienated, like political outsiders, because their local government they support with their taxes oversteps its power by placing a religious statement on government property.

And the police department shouldn’t privilege religious citizens. Such a show of religious preference undermines the credibility of the police department and causes religious minorities — including the nonreligious, who are the largest segment of the U.S. population today by religious “denomination” — to question the impartiality of law enforcement officials.

Citizens of Bartlett trust their law enforcement officials to attend to their secular duties. Spending taxpayer time and money placing religious messages on police department property is beyond the scope of secular government.

FFRF additionally notes that other police departments have removed the same bible citation from department property after receiving similar previous letters from FFRF. Failing to respect this constitutional right can be costly: FFRF sued the sheriff’s office in Brewster County, Texas, after that office put crosses on police vehicles and ignored our letters of complaint. Brewster County ended up removing the crosses and paying about $20,000 in fees and costs to FFRF. Bartlett’s painting is equally unconstitutional.

This is why FFRF is insisting that the “Matthew 5:9” art must be removed from Bartlett Police Department property immediately.

“An open profession of Christianity or any religion from an entity sworn to serve and protect is unconstitutional and divisive,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We remind the Bartlett Police Department that it serves all of the town residents, not just Christians.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including almost 500 members and a chapter in Tennessee, and works as a state/church watchdog to safeguard the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend