A Bible quote painted in the hall of one North Carolina law enforcement agency has ignited a very public spat between a Christian county sheriff and the national Freedom from Religion Foundation.
The foundation is demanding the New Testament quote be removed and hints legal action could follow.
The sheriff of Columbus County posted an equally pointed statement on Facebook saying he intends for it to stay.
“I am not scared of much, but I am afraid of burning in Hell,” Sheriff Jody Greene says in the post.
“The Freedom from Religion Foundation, mocks Christians’ fear of burning in Hell. According to their Facebook page, they have a contest for the Unabashed Atheist/Nonbeliever of the Week. … It is time, past time, to stand up. So let me be clear, I will not (waver) on my stance and Christian beliefs.”
Philippians 4:13 is at the center of the controversy: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Foundation officials say “a concerned citizen” informed them Greene had the quote prominently displayed at his office in Whiteville. The town is about 115 miles south of downtown Raleigh.
Greene has an “obligation to provide all citizens with an environment free from religious endorsement by removing this exclusionary display,” foundation officials said in a Dec. 14 news release.
“The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office must serve all citizens equally, whether Christian or non-Christian,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says in the release. “A blatantly Christian message in a law enforcement division sends a message of exclusion.”
Foundation attorney Chris Line says its also a matter of a government agency “appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief,” which is against the law.
“This bible verse display promoting Christianity in a sheriff’s office building is correctly viewed by a reasonable observer as an endorsement of religion, and is therefore unconstitutional,” Line said in the release.
Greene’s Facebook post didn’t contest that observation. He took full responsibility for the quote, noting it was put on the wall after he took office, using private funds.
The quote is intended to be motivational, he wrote, and is part of a office atmosphere that encourages prayer “before we execute a search warrant, or any service that puts our people in immediate harms way.”
“I have taken many pictures with that Bible verse in the backdrop with not a single issue, but now that we are going into an election year, it is an issue,” Greene wrote.
“How absurd! … This is a political ploy. Some want a person that they can control. Companies spend thousands of dollars on motivational classes, to come up with motivational slogans. My motivation comes from the greatest motivational speaker of all times, Jesus Christ.”
Greene’s post racked up more than 1,600 reactions and comments in three hours, many from supporters urging him to “stay strong.”
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