June 29, 2022

Bible verse at Knoxville Police HQ to be removed after legal threat; the mayor defends the decision


“If God is for us, then who can be against us?

Generations of officers from the Knoxville Police Department walked past a plaque with this piece of writing as they walked into the fight against crime. Now the sign is being removed after an atheist organization based in Madison, Wisconsin called for it to be removed, USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee has learned.

“I have been through these doors for many years and this sign has given me strength, encouragement and comfort to do this job,” KPD Deputy Chief Cindy Gass wrote in an email to KPD employees announcing an official ceremony for the withdrawal. of the plate set at 9:30 am Friday morning.


A bible verse at the KPD will be withdrawn

A sign with a bible verse is being taken down at the KPD headquarters after an atheist organization based in Madison, Wisconsin called for it to be removed.


City legal director Charles Swanson said on Tuesday that the East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation had filed a complaint about the plaque, which cites Romans 8:31 a.m. and is located on a wall near a delicatessen. . It’s not in the public areas of the Safety Building, where KPD is headquartered on Howard Baker Jr. Boulevard.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said the plaque would be moved to a new inspirational hall that the department will create inside the security building.

Separation of Church and State

Swanson said the city could have defended the plaque in court against the group’s claim that it violates the principles of separation of church and state. But he said he agreed with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s stance not to spend taxpayer dollars to fund this defense.

“We could argue for keeping it, what’s the real point? Swanson said. “I don’t think it was somewhere the public could see it. But it sure didn’t seem like it was worth funding a fight.”

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Rogero said in Wednesday’s press conference that the city determined the plaque crossed a “clear line” with the government promoting a particular religion.

“As a person of faith, I understand and respect the passion that people feel for this issue,” she said. “As a Christian, I am grateful to other Christians who feel their faith so strongly that they want to share it with the world, and I respect people of other faiths who feel the same.

“But we do not govern according to the precepts of our faith. We govern primarily under the authority of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee. “

Rogero said if the city thought it could win a lawsuit, it would spend the money.

“I could demagogue him. I could go ahead and stand there and say we’re going to fight it to the end, but if we know (and) everything tells you that this law has been established, that it’s case law (and) we know what the outcome will be so why not face it as a community and adapt like we did with this inspiration room, ”she said.

Emails obtained by USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee show that KPD officers and civilian staff were shocked by the news and blamed Rogero for giving in to the organization. Rausch defended her.

“Let me clarify something,” Rausch wrote. “The mayor did not order the sign to be removed. This is a legal decision based on current case law which has been reviewed by our legal department.

He said the mayor supported the work of the officers and “the importance of faith” in the work of the police. The mayor’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday morning.

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“I appreciate the passion I have witnessed with this news,” Rausch continued. “Please use it in a positive way and don’t blame those who have no part in it. “

In a previous email, he said he shared the agents’ disappointment.

“After much struggles and discussions, it was determined that we would remove the panel and place it in our museum,” Rausch wrote. “Isn’t that a statement of our times? “

Rausch said he had no intention of offending officers who are not Christians, “but it was a difficult decision.”

“Good over evil”

The leader said the plaque was never meant to promote religion, but “was simply a motivation for those who stand up for good against evil, those of us who stand on that” fine line. blue “between good and evil”.

“It was seen as a motivational quote, similar to others that have come from respected leaders throughout our time,” the chef wrote.


Freedom From Religion Foundation leader on removal of Bible verse plaque

Aleta Ledendecker of the East Tennessee Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation speaks about the city’s decision to remove a plaque of Bible verses from the Knoxville Police Department Security Center on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.

Rausch asserted his own Christian faith in the email and said he “will pray for those who caused this ‘problem’. I pray that their souls will be softened by the love of God, and they understand that they can make us suppress words but they cannot suppress our faith and what is in our hearts.

Aleta Ledendecker sent a letter of complaint on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in February. She said one of the group members contacted the organization about the plaque. She sent a total of three letters threatening legal action.

“Having a bible verse promotes a particular religion and in doing so discriminates against those of other religions or no religion,” she wrote. “Please ensure that the verse is deleted so that everyone who enters your police station can feel treated equally.

“Failure to remove the verse may expose the KPD and / or the City of Knoxville to costly litigation that cannot be won,” she continued.


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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the state’s official book. He said it would have trivialized the Scriptures.


religious freedom

The group, founded by an atheist and her mother in 1976, has 20,000 members and 13 paid employees. It operates on donations and threatens legal action for matters involving religion, from praying in school to posting the Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” signs. He sometimes lodges a complaint. It doesn’t always win. The group’s founder boasted of a success rate of less than 50% in a 2013 Capitol Times interview.

Ledendecker spoke to reporters after the press conference

She said a Freedom From Religion member saw the plaque in February upon entering the security center to make a statement after witnessing a shipwreck.

“Anyone who does not prescribe Christianity would be subject to a plaque that pretty much discriminates against them,” she said.

“Can you imagine what Christians would feel if they walked in and instead of the Christian plaque there was a plaque from Islam or Judaism? “

The group recently threatened with legal action the city’s proposed donation of $ 2 million to help fund a $ 10 million complex at Lonsdale Homes that will be owned by Christian organization Emerald Youth Foundation.

Rogero and Swanson both said the city felt their efforts to support the facility’s infrastructure did not support one religion over another, unlike the plaque.

The reaction

Don Wiser, a retired KPD investigator who served for 23 years, fondly remembers the plaque mounted after the agency moved into the Howard Baker Jr. Boulevard building in 1969.

“I believe in Jesus, and I believe that when they turn their backs on Jesus, we will be in bad shape,” said Wiser. “I think as bad as our people are becoming, I think it’s not the right thing to do to take that out there.”

“Jesus made a place for us,” he continued. “But Satan has a place for you too, and it is very hot in his house. I really like the air conditioning.”

Scott Smith represents Knoxville with the Tennessee Republican Party. He said the group was “troubled” by the city’s desire to remove the plaque.

“It is baffling to us how this group from Wisconsin has been personally injured by a plaque hanging in the Knoxville Police Department Security Center since 1969 … we also want to reiterate that every city mayor from 1969 to today does had no problem with that. “

An online petition to keep the plaque started early Wednesday had nearly 1,000 signatures as of 7 p.m.

More information will be updated as it becomes available.