Florida's Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is stirring controversy again for preaching in uniform. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent Judd a letter requesting he cease sermonizing in uniform due to constitutional violations. The sheriff maintains he is in the right and says he will continue the practice.
Something about Judd’s sermon, titled “Wouldn’t the World Be Better If Everyone Behaved Like a Christian,” did not sit well with FFRF, which advocates for separation of church and state.
In the letter the group sent to Judd, FFRF specifically addressed his support of faith-based jailing and his proposition that Jesus is the best way to reform individuals who have broken the law.
During the sermon, Judd told the congregation about his 2005 program for faith-based jail dorms. He said 1,490 inmates have already “accepted Jesus.”
“Promoting your personal religion using a Polk County government title and uniform gives the unfortunate impression that the county supports and endorses the First Baptist Church on the Mall and its religious teachings,” the letter on the FFRF website reads.
The letter said that Judd was violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment which prohibits the government from endorsing religions.
FFRF asked Judd to refrain from using his uniform and title as Polk County sheriff while delivering sermons. “You cannot preach in church as Sheriff Judd, you must do so as Mr. Judd, private citizen,” FFRF warned.
Judd wasn’t hearing it. “I found it humorous and entertaining,” he told The Tampa Tribune.
“I am sorry they don’t like it. That’s too bad for them,” he told Fox 13. He maintains he is not violating the Constitution, Fox 13 reports.
Judd preached in uniform again on Father’s Day. He was invited to speak at the Fellowship Church Assembly of God in Lakeland, Florida, about six months before the letter from FFRF and had accepted.
Judd said the topic was Father’s Day and included discussions on a father’s responsibility to his family, community and country. It also had a patriotic message, he said and focused on the Founding Fathers, The Ledger reports.
Co-founder and co-president of FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor, heard that Judd had preached again in uniform and said the organization would send another letter.
Judd has garnered a good deal of media attention. He has appeared recently on "Fox and Friends," "Fox Nation" and Fox News. The feedback from viewers of his interviews has been overwhelmingly supportive, Judd says.
“The next time I go to church to speak, I’ll be in uniform,” he said.
FFRF has not yet taken steps towards legal action but has threatened litigation since the initial letter. Judd has said he is prepared to defend his “legal right to wear my uniform” in court.
Gaylor said the FFRF does not object to what Judd says. The group takes issue with him preaching in uniform while acting in his capacity as sheriff.
“It should be so obvious this isn’t appropriate,” Gaylor said.
Photo Credit: Screenshot via First Baptist Church at the Mall