A national group that serves as a state and religion watchdog sent a Florida sheriff a letter addressing its concern with his choice of outfit in the pulpit.
Sheriff Grady Judd, who speaks to about 15 to 20 churches a year, said that he has no plans to replace his police uniform with a Sunday suit.
“Let me say this clearly and unequivocally, when people call the Sheriff’s Office and ask me to come speak, I’m gonna come speak, and I’m gonna wear my uniform,” Grady told WFLA in response to the criticism. “You can guarantee it.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened legal action if the local sheriff continues to wear his uniform while delivering religious speeches.
“We don’t have any problem with him preaching in church and we don’t have any problem with him teaching Sunday School, he’s free to do that,” Andrew Seidel, attorney for FFRF, said. “What he’s not allowed to do is use the public government office and title and uniform to promote his personal religion.”
The national group’s disapproval grew from Polk resident complaints that questioned the sheriff’s remarks and choice of outfit from a message he gave at his home church, First Baptist Church at the Mall on April 19. Judd gave first-hand accounts of faith-based practices that he started in the Polk County jail.
“The message was clear; the message was uplifting,” Judd said.
In the letter to Grady, the foundation expressed its concern: “In your official capacity as an officer of the government, you are bound by the Establishment Clause and cannot abuse that office to promote your personal religious choices.”
(RELATED: ‘A Call To Prayer Has The Left Crying Foul’)
The FFRF told Sheriff Judd that he cannot preach in church as Sheriff Judd, but as “Mr. Judd,” a private citizen.
While Judd disagreed, claiming his rights to the First Amendment, First Baptist Church at The Mall Pastor Jay Dennis backed his cause.
“The uniform represents more than the office,” Dennis said. “It represents the man behind it. It is the man behind it that I asked to speak, whether he is in uniform or out of uniform. I would think people would be proud to have a sheriff whose life and message, speech and conduct, is consistent with everything that uniform stands for. Grady asked me if I would prefer he wear a suit, but as I said to him, ‘It doesn’t matter to me. You are the message.'”
(RELATED: ‘ACLU Lawsuit: Indiana State Trooper Preached Jesus To Driver’)