Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington and his supporters are planning a Christian celebration for the 4th of July in the small Louisiana town.
The “In God We Trust Rally” will feature food, music, Christian prayer and “patriotic and God-lifting music,” according to an ad created by the Bossier Sheriff’s office.
“Not only am I elected to serve the people of Bossier Parish, but I live here and my family lives here," Sheriff Whittington told the Shreveport Times.
"I think Bossier Parish is a better place with Christianity and Christian values involved in it. I am an elected official," Sheriff Whittington added. "I’m also a citizen here. I think this is what’s best for us. I don’t work for anybody in Washington. What they do, what they say, I couldn’t really care less.”
The “In God We Trust Rally" is not funded by taxpayer dollars, but will be held at the Bossier Sheriff’s office substation as it was last year (video below).
Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the Louisiana’s American Civil Liberties Union, raised some concerns in an email to the Shreveport Times:
If the event is held on sheriff’s property, then by definition it is a public event that sends a message of government endorsement of Christianity. The building is paid for by public funds, and maintained by public funds.
If the religious messages are overtly Christian and suggest that Christianity is better than other religions, and if there is a link to public funding or support, this would overstep the law. In any event, it sends a message to Bossier residents who do not adhere to Christianity that they are less than equal and not worthy of support by their sheriff.
“We’re not trying to push or convert," Sheriff Whittington countered. "We’re not trying to round them up and force them into anything. There are no consequences if you don’t. That’s not it at all. But, somehow, the very basic things we were founded on are now not in vogue or out of style or might offend somebody is ridiculous."
According to BossierPress.com, the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s office was denied federal funding in June 2013 for its Young Marines and Youth Diversion programs, which mention God and include a voluntary prayer.
The U.S. government offered to restore the funding if Sheriff Whittington signed a letter “pledging that no prayer or mention of God would be allowed” in either program, but he refused to sign the letter.