May 21, 2022

Bible verse on wall of North Carolina sheriff’s office violates First Amendment, group says

WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) – The words on the wall of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office are written in large black print and read: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. The Bible verse is often quoted on everyday items, like coffee mugs and bumper stickers, but the writing inside the state law enforcement agency has sparked controversy. criticism from First Amendment activists.

The separation of church and state is an ideal on which the United States of America was founded. In fact, it was such an important idea to the Founding Fathers that they enshrined the idea in the US Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law concerning the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise.”

These are the first 16 words of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, this is called the Establishment Clause. That’s why the Freedom from Religion Foundation is calling on Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene to remove the words from the wall calling them a direct violation of the First Amendment.

Greene could not be reached for an interview. However, a Columbus County spokeswoman said, “The Sheriff is full for this week and does not have time for an interview. He indicated that the Bible verse on the wall will not come down.

Chris Line, a staff attorney for FFRF, responded to the sheriff’s response with disappointment.

“Obviously this is a very disappointing response. On the front page of the Sheriff’s Office website it says: ‘We are committed to protecting the innocent and protecting lives and property, while always respecting the constitutional rights of others,” said FFRF staff attorney Chris Line.

“It’s too bad the sheriff’s office doesn’t want to live up to this and instead chooses to violate the constitutional rights of its citizens by brazenly endorsing Christianity.” The sheriff’s office serves all citizens, whether religious or not, and this display alienates all non-Christian residents of Columbus County,” he continued.

If possible, impact on Greene’s office? Line said it was very possible that legal action would be taken.

“We are looking at all of our options right now. We will speak with our local plaintiff and assess whether legal action is the best course of action to resolve this constitutional violation, but we also hope that other members of the Columbus County community will come forward whether to speak to this issue. . or participate in any potential litigation,” Line said.

There is strong precedent for the group’s argument, as the Supreme Court has ruled on issues like this in the past.

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from making a law ‘respecting the establishment of a religion.’ This clause not only prohibits the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly favoring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion,” according to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute.

The FFRF argues that by posting such an overtly Christian message on the walls of the sheriff’s office, it shows a clear preference for one group of people. This isn’t the first time the FFRF has challenged the actions of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office.

“Last Christmas, the Sheriff’s Office posted Merry Christmas to all and Happy Birthday to our Lord and Saviour. Of course we don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying Merry Christmas, of course, but making it a religious thing, really focusing on the religious aspect is what was concerning, and concerned us just the sheriff’s office was promoting Christianity through official communication channels, like their Facebook page, and kind of just like that, you know, saw one, religion as better than the others,” Line said. .

After writing to the sheriff’s office when this message came to their attention, FFRF has not received a response. On December 14, the FFRF again sent a letter to the sheriff’s office, and Line said he hoped Greene would simply understand that he was violating the constitution and remove the verse from the wall.

“The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office is intended to serve all citizens, whether or not they are believers. More than a third [of] Americans are not Christian, and that includes more than one in four Americans who now identify as unaffiliated with the religion. The message posted in the sheriff’s building is alienating this huge portion of the American population,” according to FFRF.

Sister station WECT contacted Columbus County District Attorney Amanda Prince, who declined to comment on the legality of the wall verse, but directed a reporter to the sheriff’s office.

“I can’t give you a legal opinion on this case,” she said.