Sheriff Eric Watson of Bradley County, Tennessee, seemed to be proselytizing in a March 27 post on the Bradley County Sheriff Office's Facebook page.
In observance of Easter, Watson posted a graphic that said, "He is risen.." and he wrote:
"Today is one of the most historic days; not only did Jesus die on the cross for our sins, but he rose on this day! Luke 24:2-3 says, 'And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.'
"Mankind was redeemed forevermore when he was resurrected from the grave. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice, and offered himself for our sins. This day represents the best gift any of us could receive, which is 'Eternal Life' with our Heavenly Father!!!"
The American Atheists Legal Center in Washington, D.C., sent a complaint letter to Watson on March 28.
In response, Watson told The Cleveland Daily Banner, “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."
The AALC's letter said the group has “no issue with Sheriff Watson’s personal religion,” but rather Watson using the sheriff's department "as a platform to evangelize the sheriff’s personal religious beliefs.”
The AALC's letter mentioned Watson's Facebook posting on Feb. 29 that said: “Living today is best done with a lot of prayer,” a Dec. 21, 2015, posting that stated: "Moreover, as we say at the BCSO, Merry Christmas!" and a video on the sheriff's department website in which Watson said: "God bless you."
Amanda Knief of the AALC asked in the letter that the “sheriff refrain from making statements promoting Christianity in his capacity as sheriff.”
“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 added.
Watson told The Cleveland Daily Banner, "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."
“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 added.
Watson insisted that his Facebook posts “are not taxpayer funded,” even though the page represents a government office.
“My personal faith is forced on no one,” Watson insisted. “No one has to read my columns. No one has to participate in spiritual or religious events.”
Watson also defended voluntary faith-based programs available at the local prison, a service to baptize inmates, fewer jail fights and less recidivism.
“These are not programs that are forced upon anybody,” Watson stated. “But, many are taking advantage of them and they are showing results.”
“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 added. "Now that I serve as Bradley County's sheriff, those beliefs and values are more important to me than ever.“
Watson did not provide evidence of any law enforcement officers "not having faith of some sort," but 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."