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Bland County sheriff addresses Facebook post complaint

Bland County sheriff addresses Facebook post complaint

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A non-profit organization dedicated to keeping religion and government separate has cautioned Bland County Sheriff Jason Ramsey to stop posting religious messages on the sheriff’s office’s official Facebook page.

In an April 9 letter sent to Ramsey from Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Christopher Line , Line said the Foundation had been contacted by a local resident about the sheriff’s office regularly posting Bible verses, prayer requests and other religious messages to its page.

The Foundation said the posts range “from regularly asking for thoughts and prayers to ending messages with ‘God bless’ to direct Christian proselytizing.”

The letter cites five posts, the most recent of which was posted the day before Easter Sunday with the message “he is risen-celebrate the resurrection.”

“The tomb was empty,” a caption reads. “Halleluja!! We thank God that we serve a risen savior! Christ concurred [sic] death ! We thank you Jesus for giving us eternal life. We praise you Lord!! Our savior lives !! We pray that everyone has a blessed and safe Easter Sunday worshiping a risen savior!”

The caption was signed by Ramsey.

Line said religious endorsements alienate those who do not adhere to that religion.

“As you are aware, citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives,” the letter states. “As a sheriff, you serve a diverse population that consists of not only Christians, but also minority religious and nonreligious citizens. We hope you will agree that the Sheriff’s Office must be even-handed and avoid any appearance of bias toward some citizens, or hostility toward others.”

In the letter, Line pointed to the “Establishment Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, which the Supreme Court has long held “mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

“Government employees can worship, pray, or quote any religious text they wish when acting in their personal capacities,” the letter went on. “But they are not permitted to provide prestige to their personal religion through the machinery of a government office.”

Ramsey said last week that he was seeking legal opinion from the county's attorney in the matter.

“I am a Christian and feel that I have to live, act and work as such,” he said. “I realize that someone has complained on my religious post. It is a shame that a very small minority wants to run the majority. If I have to start a personal Facebook page, I will. I will keep on being who I am. I am a Christian Sheriff. I am not ashamed of my faith. I will post of Christ’s love.”

Line also said the promotion of religion “needlessly jeopardizes taxpayer dollars by exposing the county to legal liability. Not long ago, the sheriff’s office in Bradley County, Tenn. paid more than $40,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees after promoting religion on social media and ignoring objections to the practice.”

The challenge to the BCSO Facebook posts isn’t the first in the area. In 2017, Wythe County Public Schools received a similar letter from the FFRF urging the school system to remove a prayer plaque at Spiller Elementary School. Despite backlash from some local parents and local religious leaders, the school system placed the plaque in storage. A second complaint about a similar plaque at Fort Chiswell High School also saw that plaque removed from the cafeteria wall.

Contact Jasmine Franks at jfranks@wythenews.com.

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