“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us then who can be against us.” The line from Romans (8:31) had adorned a sign that for years hung on the wall at police headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee.
But now city leadership has made the decision to remove the signage — after receiving complaints from the East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist advocacy group that favors what it calls “freethought” (yes, all one word in their book).
“Please see that the verse is removed so that all who enter your police station may feel equally treated,” chapter president Aleta Ledenbetter wrote in a letter to the police chief on February 23.
The organization, as has been its habit, even threatened to sue.
“We’re not trying to take religion away from anyone. We’re just trying to make sure there’s a level playing field,” Ledenbetter insisted to WBIR.com.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, a Democrat, did not want to spend taxpayer money on court fees or appearances to defend the Bible verse plaque, according to reports.
“As a person of faith, I understand and respect the passion that people feel on this issue,” Rogero said Wednesday at a news conference. “As a Christian, I’m thankful for fellow Christians who feel their faith so strongly that they want to share it with the world, and I respect people of other faiths who feel the same.”
“But we do not govern according to the dictates of our faiths,” said Rogero.
Police Chief David Rausch announced Wednesday the department will create a “wall of inspiration” that will house the plaque. “It [the Bible verse] will be displayed alongside other inspirational quotes, religious verses and proverbs,” as the Associated Press reported.
“After much wrestling and discussion, it has been determined that we will remove the sign and place it in our museum,” Chief Rausch said, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “Isn’t that a statement of our times?”
The mayor did not order him to remove the verse, the police chief noted. He apparently made the decision for legal reasons.
“It is baffling to us how this group in Wisconsin [has] been personally harmed by a plaque that has been hanging in the Knoxville Police Department’s Safety Center since 1969 … We also want to reiterate that every city mayor from 1969 until now has not had a problem with this,” said Scott Smith, who represents Knoxville with the Tennessee Republican Party.
Unfamiliar with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)? A description of the group’s strident anti-religion mission, as found on its website, says it all: “Won’t you join FFRF in our critical work to promote nontheism and defend the constitutional separation between religion and government? With more than 29,500 members, the nonprofit FFRF works as an effective state/church watchdog and voice for freethought (atheism, agnosticism, skepticism).”
Or, as liberal feminist writer Katha Pollitt put it in a glowing blurb for the group — she’s also a member of FFRF’s “honorary board” — “Reason’s Greetings!”