Atheists condemn Facebook postings

Watson: ‘I will not alter or change my faith’

By BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Posted 4/2/16

Sheriff Eric Watson said he was open about his faith before he was elected and will remain so while in office.

“I respect the right of others to believe as they so choose, but my personal faith …

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Atheists condemn Facebook postings

Watson: ‘I will not alter or change my faith’

Sheriff Eric Watson is remaining steadfast in speaking of his faith as he serves the public as one of the county’s top elected law enforcement officials.
Sheriff Eric Watson is remaining steadfast in speaking of his faith as he serves the public as one of the county’s top elected law enforcement officials.
Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES

Sheriff Eric Watson said he was open about his faith before he was elected and will remain so while in office.

“I respect the right of others to believe as they so choose, but my personal faith in Christ is absolute. I will not alter or change my faith for any reason,” Watson said.

The sheriff was responding to a letter he received March 28 from the American Atheists Legal Center in Washington, D.C.

In the letter, AALC said the organization had received a complaint on March 27 about a Facebook post the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office had “posted about the Christian holiday Easter”

“American Atheists Legal Center found that on March 27, the BCSO posted in its official Facebook page an image stating ‘He is Risen’ with a message that quotes the bible and evangelizes the meaning of Easter,” the letter stated.

The organization does not capitalize the word “bible” throughout the letter.

The letter also cites another posting which was a reprint of Watson’s Cleveland Daily Banner column titled “A Chance to Breathe” which the AALC contends the sheriff “proselytizes about Easter and Jesus and quotes the bible.”

The letter continues:

“A quick look back on the BSCO Facebook page and website found additional references to Christianity made by the sheriff, including:

- Feb. 29: In a post titled “The Time We Live In,” the sheriff states that “Living today is best done with a lot of prayer.” Sheriff Watson also writes that he is aghast that used tires were dumped in a church lot, and notes that a ‘man of God’ he knew has died recently.

- Dec. 21, 2015: In a post about the winter solstice, Sheriff Watson ends by stating ‘Moreover, as we say at the BCSO, Merry Christmas!’

- On the official BCSO website, Sheriff Watson offers a 12-second video welcome that ends with him saying ‘God bless you.’”

Amanda Knief, national legal and public policy director for the AALC, asks the “sheriff refrain from making statements promoting Christianity in his capacity as sheriff.”

Knief said the 2010 U.S. Census data showed at least 40 percent of Cleveland residents are non-religious “making them the single largest religious community after Evangelical Christians.”

She cites the U.S. Supreme Court “has recognized that the Establishment Clause prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious beliefs or from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person’s standing in the political community.

“With official statements that demonstrate the sheriff’s preference for Christians in the county, there may be cause to question the allocation of resources based on religion in the BCSO,” Knief wrote.

Watson said Friday the voters of Bradley County got what they saw when he was elected.

“When I campaigned for the office of sheriff, and before that, the office of state representative, I never made any effort to hide or deny my strong, personal Christian faith,” Watson said.

“It is this faith that has guided me throughout my life, and I thank God every day for parents who instilled in their children their own personal beliefs and values.”

Watson said the Facebook posts “are not taxpayer funded.”

“There is no charge involved with our Facebook page,” he said. “It is not government-funded.”

Knief uses as another example the sheriff’s article, “The Time We Live In,” where he wrote that he was particularly upset about the tires being dumped at a local church.

“As a non-religious person, I am curious if Sheriff Watson would have been just as upset if the tires had been dumped at a school? At a private business, such as a grocery store? What if the tires had been dumped on a private citizen’s lawn?” Knief wrote.”

“There were several postings on the Facebook page about this incident with the sheriff quoted multiple times — more postings about tire dumping at a church than about meth labs, assaults, and other crimes. This non-injurious crime seemed to be solved very quickly. Was this case given more resources and manpower because the sheriff was upset it occurred at a church?”

“This group obviously does not look at our entire record,” Watson said. “The BCSO’s main purpose is to protect all of the citizens of Bradley County. We are seeing success in that purpose. Our arrest rates are up and we have solved many of the serious crimes very quickly.”

“Our Facebook page is full of many, many arrests we’ve made from the misdemeanor level to one, posted just days before the one that seems to have upset them, which noted the arrest of 33 persons including sex offenders, those owing child support and other felony charges,” the sheriff said.

“There is plenty more if they would look at everything posted. We are, on an almost daily basis, working to get the bad guys off the street. We are law enforcement officers first and foremost.”

He notes it is the job to protect the churches as well and, in the instance mentioned, the church “experienced a form of vandalism.”

“It was handled just as we would do for any individual citizen,” Watson said. “I will admit my faith causes a personal outrage when a place of worship is the target of such a crime.”

Watson also noted the BCSO has hosted public forums concerning church security.

“In the recent years, we have seen acts of violence carried out in churches across the country,” the sheriff said. “I wonder if this effort to keep those who choose to worship in Bradley County safe and secure in their churches is found to be offensive or unconstitutional by this group?”

The AALC letter continues:

“In the same article, the sheriff mentioned a ‘man of God’ who died recently — a local minister,” Knief wrote. “While I’m sure he was a good person and his family grieves their loss, why is it appropriate for the sheriff, in his official capacity, to laud the accomplishments of a Christian minister? Would the sheriff do the same of a Jewish rabbi? A Muslim imam? A humanist celebrant? What about an atheist who was simply a good person in the community? The sheriff’s personal beliefs appear to be informing his choices as a government official.”

“I serve all the people of Bradley County — no matter their faith or religion,” Watson said. “When a call comes in for help, they are not asked whether they are religious or not.”

The sheriff also said the inmates at the jail have access at all times to have counsel from any faith or religion they may practice.

“Honestly, we have never been asked,” Watson said. “But, we stand ready to aid our inmates with any spiritual counsel they may want. If they desire none, none is forced on them.”

Watson was especially emphatic about that last point.

“My personal faith is forced on no one,” he said. “No one has to read my columns. No one has to participate in spiritual or religious events.”

The sheriff also said that since the addition of more faith-based programs being made available at the Justice Center, as well as the opportunity for inmates to be baptized, there is a notable decrease in jail cell fights and recidivism.

“These are not programs that are forced upon anybody,” Watson said. “But, many are taking advantage of them and they are showing results.”

The AALC letter continues:

“Finally, in the Winter Solstice article on Dec. 12, 2015, the sheriff wrote that the BCSO said ‘Merry Christmas.’ That is a potentially litigious statement for a state employer to make. It is illegal to ask your employees what their religious views and practices are, and with 40 percent of the local population not having any religious beliefs, it also likely makes that statement an imposition of Sheriff Watson’s religious beliefs on his employees. The Tennessee Human Rights Act, TN Code Sec. 4-21-401, et seq., prohibits discrimination based on religion in the workplace.”

“It is obvious to me these people have never visited Bradley County,” Watson said. “If there ever was one, this is a county strong in faith. Try turning a corner and not seeing a church. If they are offended by someone wishing them Merry Christmas, I’m sorry about that. But, if members of the community we serve say the same thing to our officers, am I supposed to instruct them not to respond in a polite and proper way?”

“One thing I will assure the citizens of Bradley County, there will be no BCSO employee ever disciplined on my watch for wishing someone a Merry  Christmas,” Watson said. “If they don’t want to see it on our Facebook page, don’t pull it up.”

Just as officers are not discouraged to use the phrase, Watson said there is no penalty for not using it.

“But, I know the staff and officers of the BCSO,” he said. “They are Bradley countians like me — with the same kind of raising I had. Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ is a part of life around here. It’s part of who we are.”

In the letter, AALC said it is not attacking Watson personally and has “no issue with Sheriff Watson’s personal religion.”

“We respect law enforcement and the efforts of the BCSO to reach out into its community,” the AALC letter concludes. “However, we are hopeful that after this letter, the BCSO will see that its community includes many non-religious persons too, and they deserve to be treated with equal respect, dignity, and recognition as Christians. We believe the best way to do that is to stop using the BCSO as a platform to evangelize the sheriff’s personal religious beliefs.”

Watson disagrees the department is being utilized “to evangelize.”

“I can’t imagine any law enforcement officer who, on a daily basis, goes out and risks losing their lives not having faith of some sort,” Watson said. "Now that I serve as Bradley County's sheriff, those beliefs and values are more important to me than ever.“

“As a servant of the people, Jesus Christ will continue to be my role model as the greatest servant mankind has ever known,” he added. “My duties as sheriff are 24-hours a day, seven days a week. If the expectation is I have to take off my badge to express my faith, I don’t buy that. I am not forcing my faith on anyone doing what I do. But, if the pillars of that faith — love, mercy, justice, forgiveness and redemption — are not good examples to set fourth, what are? Even those who are ‘non-religious’ should not have any problems with expressing and endorsing those attributes.”

Watson said he holds no animosity to those who are behind the letter.

“But, I will continue to do my job each and everyday knowing that a much higher power guides and directs everything I do,” he said.

“I want to also reassure those who have made this demand that I have never used an elected office to force my beliefs on others,” he said.

“I hope my example will help others to see the light some day. All religious activities held in connection with my office are strictly voluntary. It is through example and not pressure, that we strive to win the heart and souls of those who are seeking a better life.”


3 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
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Linda Prince

I can't express how proud this makes me to have a Sheriff that is not ashamed of his beliefs in Jesus Christ!

Sunday, April 3, 2016
Evangelist John Boyd

I knew ridicule would come at you but as God's children we will stand together and stay strong for each other and for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as He has and still does stand for us ... God Bless you Sheriff Watson ... Never waiver or deter from your faith in God and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ .... God Bless You Brother

Sunday, April 3, 2016
Carrie Geren Scoggins

There is NO "freedom from religion, as he liberals had wished to attain. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, and ACLU, have failed in attempts to gain censorship via the argument of a freedom from religion. The Federal Supreme Court upheld our legal right to proselytize, rather than finding an implied freedom from religion. Our founding fathers quoted the Bible a documented over 15,000 times, opened and closed sessions making our laws with prayers unto God, all while they were on the government payroll, and on government land, proving in the Federal Supreme Court hearing that no freedom from religion was implied by our founding fathers.

State employees have a legal right to adhere to Biblical core values, while on the job, or in private business, upheld by the Federal Supreme Court, coupled with the 1964 Civil Rights Act giving religion protected class status on the job, and in their private businesses, these federal laws trump state antidiscrimination law, as federal trumps state, giving the anti-Christian religious bigotry no proverbial 'leg to stand on.'

There is no freedom from religion, religious tolerance is expected!

"You are not a Libertarian until you support the legal rights of those that you despise," this includes Christian civil rights, coupled with religious tolerance!


Carrie Geren Scoggins

webcast on Christian civil rights on YouTube

Sunday, April 3, 2016


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