N.C. sheriff’s office makes changes to prayer event


A North Carolina sheriff’s office has agreed to cease its promotion of a fast-approaching prayer event after the Freedom From Religion Foundation raised constitutional objections.

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 will be a prayer led by Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the celebrity evangelist Billy Graham and sister of Franklin Graham. The sheriff’s office had been advertising on its official website and social media accounts, giving the appearance of government endorsement of religion.

The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office informed FFRF that it has removed mention of the event from the sheriff’s website and moved its location from the steps of the sheriff’s office, as was advertised, to the parking lot. The sheriff’s office has also said that any group can use the parking lot for events, including FFRF’s local North Carolina chapter, the Triangle Freethought Society.

FFRF is asking the county to address its remaining concern: that Ashe County officers, and perhaps Sheriff Terry Buchanan, will be appearing at the event in their official uniforms, and may even speak using their government titles. This would exacerbate the appearance that the sheriff’s office endorses Christianity, which is already a concern due to the history of the event.

Quoting precedent from federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office warning against this state and church entanglement.

“Using a government title and uniform to promote his personal religious beliefs or the beliefs of Mrs. Lotz would give the unfortunate impression that the county supports and endorses those particular religious beliefs,” wrote Seidel. “This presents a problem for the sheriff because the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from ‘promoting or affiliating itself with any religious doctrine or organization.'”

Approximately 30 percent of Americans do not identify with Christianity and nearly 25 percent are not religious at all. Already, this event alienates non-Christian community members by featuring a prominent evangelical speaker.

“By endorsing a Christian prayer event, law enforcement officers demonstrate that they prefer Christianity over all over faiths and risk estrangement in their relationship with non-Christian citizens,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Ashe County officers should focus on their secular duties citizens trust them with.”

FFRF is asking for assurances that Sheriff Buchanan and his deputies do not attend or participate in the event in their official capacity or on government time. Ashe County officers have secular duties to take care of — and organizing or attending a “Time of Prayer” is far beyond the scope of civil government.

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.

Photo via Shutterstock by Jeremy What

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend