The Freedom from Religion Foundation certainly doesn’t mince any words concerning what they’re about. Recently they went on the offensive against a Florida sheriff who was invited to speak at a local Baptist church. Apparently, they wanted him to change out of his uniform first:
[Polk County Sheriff Grady] Judd spoke from the pulpit of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland two months ago.
“Wouldn’t the world be better if everyone behaved like a Christian?” Judd said as part of his speech.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent Judd a letter accusing him of “excluding other religions and making non-believers feel like outsiders in their own community.”
Judd says he was invited to the church and that his message was “clear and uplifting.”
However, the Freedom from Religion Foundation says if the sheriff continues to speak about religion while wearing his uniform, it will consider filing a lawsuit.
So. Here I am again. In the unenviable position of having to explain the First Amendment to people who claim to be experts of the law. Let’s revisit the actual text, shall we?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Great. So far, so good. Let’s look very carefully at this text:
Congress . . .
Okay, let me interrupt you right there. “Congress shall make no law…” Congress. Not the state government. Not county governments. Certainly not sheriffs. Congress. Why is this so hard to understand?
The First Amendment, like the entire Bill of Rights, is about defining and limiting the powers of the national government. It doesn’t refer to any other level of government because, according to the Tenth Amendment, state and local governments, or the people, reserve any powers not exclusively delegated to the national government or prohibited by the Constitution. The First Amendment has nothing to do with local law enforcement. In other words, local authorities are technically permitted to make laws establishing a particular religion, though none of them probably want to.
Furthermore, Grady Judd was not making or enforcing any law by “preaching” at a Baptist church. He was speaking his mind. While in uniform. In a church. Oddly enough, all of those self-expressions are protected by the First Amendment. Yes, the very same First Amendment that the Freedom from Religion Foundation is attempting to use to forbid such self-expressions.
It’s odd how some people can get things so absolutely backwards. But, what do you expect from people who have no religion? In the immortal words of Sheriff Grady Judd, “Wouldn’t the world be better if everyone behaved like a Christian?”
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