FFRF wants S.C. “Bible & Badges” program to stop

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking for an immediate end to a city-organized Christian bible study for cops in a South Carolina town.

An area resident informed FFRF that the city of Newberry regularly sponsors Christian “Bibles and Badges” sessions. The bible studies are reportedly held in city facilities, and the city is listed on Facebook as the meeting host. The city’s official Facebook page promotes these bible studies, which involve the public and city police officers who are in uniform. The city describes the event as providing “not only a chance to interact and learn about the bible with other officers, but to build stronger connections within the community and interact with local religious leaders.” Its promotion of the bible studies has repeatedly included calls for members of the public to attend.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that the First Amendment “mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,” FFRF reminds the city of Newberry. Hosting and promoting a Christian bible study fails to respect either constitutional mandate of neutrality. And when it comes to police officers and local government, the judicial consensus is clear.

“With respect to law enforcement in particular, federal courts have specifically prohibited law enforcement agencies from proselytizing or promoting religion,” Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott writes to Newberry Mayor Foster Senn. “The city’s hosting and recruiting for a bible study amount to an unconstitutional advancement and endorsement of religion. A municipal government cannot legally hold a bible study in government offices, promote it via official communication channels, and involve its officials and employees in the event itself.” 

The police department serves not only Christians, but also atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, among others, FFRF emphasizes. Encouraging citizens to participate in a bible study is coercive and beyond the authority of any government, let alone a law enforcement arm of the government. Citizens should not be made to feel excluded or like political outsiders because the city’s police department they support with their taxes promotes devotional bible studies. In addition, law enforcement officers who are not Christian should not be marginalized by the city government that they serve.

“The ‘Bibles and Badges’ program deserves a demerit for unconstitutionality,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “A city shouldn’t be organizing a religious — much less sectarian Christian — event.”

FFRF is insisting that the city of Newberry immediately cease hosting and promoting the “Bibles and Badges” study sessions.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with about 30,000 members across the country, including nearly 200 in South Carolina. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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