A North Carolina sheriff’s office has found itself in the crosshairs of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for having a Bible verse displayed on a wall.
The verse, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV), is located in the hallway of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office.
FFRF claims that the Scripture adornment is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which, FFRF reasons, prohibits any government agency from establishing an official religion and prohibits government actions that favor one religion over another. The Establishment Clause says simply that Congress cannot create a law “respecting an establishment of religion,” which historically was understood to mean a state-sanctioned church.
“The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office must serve all citizens equally, whether Christian or non-Christian,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “A blatantly Christian message in a law enforcement division sends a message of exclusion.”
The nontheistic organization has sent letters to the county’s sheriff, Jody Greene, urging him to remove the verse, but Greene has made it clear that verse will not be coming down.
“First, the Bible verse was placed on the wall after I took office,” he explained in a lengthy Facebook post on the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office page. “It was paid for with private funds, not with county funding.
“The verse is one of my favorite Bible verses, and it seemed fitting. … It is very motivational to me and my staff. Here at the Sheriff’s Office, we work hard in everything that we do. Before we execute a search warrant, or any service that puts our people in immediate harm’s way, we ALWAYS go to the Lord with a group prayer. ALWAYS!
“I have taken many pictures with that Bible verse in the backdrop with not a single issue, but now that we are going into an election year, it is an issue,” he added. “… This is a political ploy. Some want a person that they can control. Companies spend thousands of dollars on motivational classes, to come up with motivational slogans. My motivation comes from the greatest motivational speaker of all times, Jesus Christ.
“Currently, in Columbus County, we are at 180 overdoses. Drugs and violence are killing our youth. We need more Jesus and less politics.”
An attorney with FFRF told local news station WECT that the organization is considering filing a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.
Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at First Liberty Institute, explained that religious displays by themselves are not unconstitutional; in fact, they’re presumed to be constitutional.
“It’s up to those who say they’re not to prove they’re unconstitutional,” he said.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation always seems to wag a scolding finger any time religion appears in public, regardless of where that may occur,” he added. “If this had been written on a piece of paper and set on the sheriff’s desk, they still would have been upset about it. Any sort of acknowledgement of religion in public seems to be a welcome target for this organization that simply wants to drive religion out of the public square.
“At the end of the day, the sheriff has to answer to the people that elected him to be sheriff. If they have a concern about this, they can take care of it at the ballot box.”
Above: With the Scripture verse in the background, Sheriff Greene and Lt. Justin Worley present $2,600 to Pastor Dave Heller for the Columbus Baptist Toy Store on Nov. 24.
Photo: Columbus County Sheriff's Office Facebook