WALKER COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The way the Walker County Sheriff’s Office sometimes uses social media recently caught the attention of a national group who sent a letter asking for the department to use more inclusive language and to not promote religious beliefs.
On Nov. 26, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the department, expressing concerns about the department’s Facebook page over “religious promotion.” Specifically, the group took issue with a post on Nov. 23 about the death of Lowndes County Sheriff “Big John” Williams, saying that the department’s “prayers are with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office family as they deal with this senseless tragedy.”
The group also took issue with a post on department’s page from Aug. 4 regarding a deputy involved in a collision that killed a boy.
“This accident will forever change those two people, their families, and will have a ripple effect across our entire county,” Sheriff Nick Smith. “It’s at this very trying time that we, as a county, should fall to our knees and pray fervently for mercy and peace.”
The letter was sent out by Sam Grover, associate counsel at Freedom from Religion, who said the group because aware of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page after they received a complaint from a Walker County citizen.
“Observing a strict separation of church and state excludes no one and honors the First Amendment,” Grover wrote. “Individuals are free to turn to religion or secular forms of compassion in times of tragedy as they see fit. It is not the government’s job to promote religion over nonreligion.”
On Tuesday, Walker County Sheriff’s Office community relations officer T.J. Armstrong shared the letter on Facebook.
“We consider it a great honor to be considered and to have received a wonderful letter from the ‘Freedom From Religion’ organization,” Armstrong wrote. “Proud to have a Sheriff that won’t bow to political pressure or the devices of the enemy!”
In a phone interview with CBS 42 Wednesday, Armstrong said the department would not change the way it did things.
“As far as the department, we don’t push one religion over another , however, the Constitution gives us the freedom to express or religions,” Armstrong said.
Speaking on the outpouring of support for the department on Facebook, Grover told CBS 42 that he agrees with people’s views of being able to express their beliefs, but to a point.
“The problem with the Sheriff’s office promoting prayer in this way is that it undercuts citizens’ religious freedoms,” Grover said. “When they’re acting as county officials, they do not need to promote their religion.”
Armstrong, who says he’s also a minister, said he personally tries to be respectful of everyone’s beliefs and ways of thinking. In addition, he believes calling people to prayer can be a way to bring people together.
“I believe that when we ask people to pray, people see our hearts and they see that compassion and they respond to that,” he said.
Armstrong said he is not offended by other people expressing their beliefs, so he does not understand why the Freedom from Religion Foundation would have issue with it.
“These people are just looking for a fight,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think they’re offended; they’re just looking for a fight.”
READ THE LETTER HERE