From the Local Jail to the Local Churches

In Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd decided to remove basketball hoops from the county jail:

“It just bothered me that people would drive by and say, ‘I’m working hard, and the guys are sitting in the county jail playing basketball,’” Judd told FOX 13 on Thursday. “Well, no basketball, no more.”

Alright, fine. I’m not concerned with whether that was the right move or not. What concerns me is what he did afterwards:

Judd is donating the hoops, backboards and poles to eight area churches. The Turning Point Worship Center just a few blocks away from the jail in Bartow, got the first set.

“There are children here five days a week,” said Pastor Thomas Presley. “So it will probably be used every day.”

But taxpayer-funded equipment should not be going to tax-exempt Christian churches. (Do you mean to tell me there are no schools in Polk County that could use extra basketball equipment?)

Thankfully, the Atheists of Florida are on it (PDF):

This measure is in direct violation of the Florida and United States Constitutions. On behalf of our members we request that your office immediately cease and desist this unconstitutional practice.

Your actions clearly violate the “establishment clauses” of the Florida and United States Constitutions. The transfer of taxpayer property to churches is a preference of religion over non-religion, and a preference of the recipient churches over other churches and religions.

There is no secular purpose for your office’s policy and practice of specifically choosing to donate public property to churches. The primary effect of the donations is to preferentially aid and advance the receiving churches. This policy and practice cannot avoid excessive entanglement by the government with religion.

What did Judd say about all this?

His office said they would issue a statement today, but there’s nothing on his website yet.

This is another example of something that, by itself, isn’t all that significant — no one really cares about the basketball hoops — but it raises a question of principle. Do you abide by the law or do you break it for the Christians?

If the Sheriff wants to do the right thing, he’ll just admit he made a mistake and fix it.

  • Janice in Toronto

    The sheriff already gave one set of hoops to a local church. Are they going to get those hoops back from the church?

    Sounds like a done deal to me…

  • Jeanine

    Most likely, it will go over the Sheriff’s head, and he’ll scream, “Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!”

  • Jeanine

    Most likely, it will go over the Sheriff’s head, and he’ll scream, “Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!”

  • Heidi

    Well isn’t that cute. I feel like if he is going to appropriate these hoops for donation, he should refund the taxpayer money that purchased them out of his own pocket.

  • Lukas

    It just bothered me that people would drive by and say, ‘I’m working hard, and the guys are sitting in the county jail playing basketball’

    This is kind of off-topic, but I never understood this kind of reasoning. I mean, I live near a jail, but never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that something like a basketball court would make me want to be in jail. What does this say about this sheriff that this is what goes through his mind when he drives by the jail?

  • Jeanette

    I agree that it’s a matter of principle. What I love about your blog is that it’s a collection of all these isolated incidents- sometimes it’s difficult to explain to a Christian why these things irk atheists, and I certainly don’t want to perpetuate a “bitter atheist” stereotype, but all these isolated incidents really add up to a feeling that Christians are given special privilege in the U.S. that I am exempt from. That’s what’s irksome about it, not the individual basketball hoops situation. But anyway, what’s great about this blog is that it’s a perfect resource for showing people what I mean when I say “this stuff happens all the time” with regard to Christians getting special exceptions to rules the rest of us have to follow.

  • staceyjw

    Heidi- Im with you, if everyone had to pay out of pocket for these violations they would come to a grinding halt.

    Lukas- People always use this type of reasoning- that prisoners should have NOTHINg that could be construed as fun on their tax dime. forget that basketball might make everyone more relaxed, but no one thinks about that. just vengeance.

    As for the hoops, don’t churches get enough FREE STUFF via the TAXPAYER? They need to pay like the rest of us.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Most of the time when government gets rid of property, it’s auctioned off (either in a formal auction, or via the collection of bids for it). If churches want the equipment, they can have it … if they bid for it and then pay up if they win.

    A requirement to auction off or collect bids for things is, in some locales, required by law. I have to wonder if this sheriff had been subject to such a requirement, and if so, why was he allowed to violate it?

  • Lambert

    It’s bad enough that the act of giving the hoops to churches is blatantly unconstitutional, but this yet another example where some tin-pot official can arbitrarily decide what form the punishment of the prisoners should take. Worse still it’s a county jail, so you can bet that there are plenty of non-convicted people in there waiting trial. Every day punishment is meted out to inmates a the whim of the guards, and nobody gets a say-so about it.

    That’s why some county jails (and some Federal ones too)are worse that Guantanamo Bay. Nobody, far less the Board of Prisons, pays any attention to what this country does to its prisoners. As the world leaders (by far) at incarceration we really should do a better job of it. Vindictiveness, which is so common in our ‘correctional’ institutions, has no place in prisoner treatment.

  • Thegoodman

    It seems odd that a Sheriff is so unconcerned for the safety of his jailers.

    Basketball, TV, books, and other activities keep inmates preoccupied while they serve their time. It is not there for their enjoyment, it is there for their distraction. Distraction from harming officers, distraction from plotting future crimes, distraction from forming gangs, etc..

    I am an electrical engineer who has has the displeasure of spending hundreds of hours working in a Florida county jail (security system stuff) and it not a ‘fun’ place. They are filthy, miserable, and they turn punk kids into full blown criminals in just a few short months.

    This Sheriff is a moron.

  • Ben

    I agree Lambert. Is it no surprise that the US has the highest per capita number of incarcerated in the world? It’s not because your government is doing such a bang-up job of finding and locking up criminals, it’s because of conservative/Rethuglican attitude that criminals should be treated like animals (a.k.a. “you do the crime, you do the time”).

    If you treat a person like an animal, don’t be surprised when they act like one.

    Social sports require cooperation and friendly competition: if you take away that, then how exactly are prisoners supposed to be rehabilitated back into society? The same goes for education, health services (including decent, nutritional food), and general safety.

    Thankfully here in Australia we don’t elect our judges, which means they can’t bow to the public pressure to dole out “justice” when what’s needed is compassion and rehabilitation in the form of non-custodial orders.

    Anyway, as for the giving of the hoops to churches, it depends on where the churches are located and exactly what the intentions are. If it’s in a poor area and intended to keep the kids off the street, then I’m all for it. But if it’s just for the kids of the parents who worship there, then not at all.

  • Bob

    It sounds like there was no formal complaint or cause, just a resentment on the part of the sheriff.

    When it comes down to it, gee, if I’m driving past a prison and see inmates in the yard, playing basketball or lifting weights, I’m not thinking, “Shoot, I wish I didn’t have to work and could spend all day shooting hoops.”

    I’m thinking, “Prison inmates.” I’m not envious of their apparent free time, nor the three squares and living space they get. They’re under strict supervision, they’re confined, and they’re not having a lark at Disneyland.

    The sheriff needs to consider that there’s a difference between enforcing the law and desiring to punish those who have broken it.

  • Dan

    This will make atheists look bad to those who don’t get it, and it’ll make atheists look worse to those who already hate us.

    Why?

    Because on the face of it, it’s an atheist group stopping a free donation to a church for the kids.

    How many people who dig into the story will see that there are much better places the hoops could have been donated to – like a homeless shelter, or orphanage, or a hospital.

    And how many will dig into the story to learn everything mentioned in this post?

  • Bob

    @Dan:

    So atheists should NOT say anything, because it might offend Liars For Christ?

    Not buying it.

  • Erp

    What on earth are the churches thinking of to be involved in a transaction that benefits them and makes prisoners worst off? I wonder if the sheriff offered the hoops to any churches that then refused on the grounds that it would be unchristian to benefit from cruelty to prisoners.

  • kyle s.

    in polk county they just call it the polkie.

  • Richard Wade

    This will make atheists look bad to those who don’t get it, and it’ll make atheists look worse to those who already hate us.

    So what? Are we going to join the legions of placators, sheep who let religionists off the hook again and again and again, and passively watch the Constitution die the death of a million teeny weeny cuts because we want them to like us?

    We let them live in coddled, privileged status for so long, both their tax status and their absurd ideas being held above question, so they’re soft, spoiled brats. When somebody objects to having to pay public money yet again for their benefits, they whine about being oppressed.

    Oh, they can go stuff it.

    I already pay too many taxes that end up benefiting religious organizations that don’t have to pay any taxes at all. They don’t pay taxes, but the fire department comes if the church is on fire. They don’t pay taxes, but the police chase away the burglars trying to break inside. They don’t pay taxes, but the road in front of their church is fixed by the city. I pay for all that stuff, not them, and I pay extra because they use those services. Now they’re gonna hate me? Aww gee whiz, I was really hoping they’d let me join the basketball club they’ve started recently, since they got those nice hoops, backboards and poles.

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    I’m with @PsiCop on this-most jurisdictions have policies for disposal of surplus assets (and that’s what they are if the sheriff is correct and the prisoners don’t “need” them).

    These are in place as much to ensure the hoops don’t end up at the sheriff’s summer cottage as much as to avoid their being gifted to a church at the whim of the sheriff. In both cases it’s about abuse of power.

    Sometimes jumping immediately to the constitutional argument obscures the issue for the public. It would be interesting to see poll results on how much (or little) the public understands the establishment clause and its implications. There needs to be increased public education about how church state separation benefits everyone, including churches.

    Until then, these teapot tempests of establishment violations will continue and and as we’ve seen from comments in the media, they will continue to be misconstrued and misunderstood, slowing the progress of people adopting secular ideals.

  • Luther

    A much higher percent of prisoners are religious than the general population.

    Maybe it is less oppressive than being in church.

  • moderngirl

    it’s not just a violation of the establishment clause, it’s also a violation of the gratuities clause.

  • Tim

    This is definitely one of those little issues that are really the most important. They’re definitely about principles more than actual monetary value or legal transgression; the only problem is that, complaining about little stuff like this (on principle, even) makes us look like assholes to everyone else.

    Therein lies the trap though…everyone else says “hey, c’mon you mean old atheists…it’s just a few basketball hoops. What’s the big deal?” Well, it’s always stuff like that…”just a little prayer before meetings…just a little 10 Commandments monument in the capitol building…just a little campaign contribution from the local church…” Our Constitutional Separation of Church and State is being chipped away by tiny little transgressions like these, and if we end up looking like stingy assholes in our fight against them, so be it. It’s worth it to protect against their larger collective motive.

  • PJB863

    Grady Judd is the biggest publicity wh*** this side of the Mississippi! I used to live in an adjacent county and there wasn’t a week that went by where you didn’t see his face on TV, either rounding up some alleged criminals he’d entrapped or pulling a stunt like this. And to think I applied for a job to work for him once. I’m glad I didn’t get the job.

    And yet he keeps doing this stuff to get re-elected by the rednecks and elderly who think he’s keeping them safe.

    And BTW, Bartow is the “main” jail, but most inmates are housed in West Frostproof, where I imagine that they still have hoops, nice and out-of-site of the rest of the world.
    .

  • Alex

    Our justice and prison system is so medieval and really reflects our christian values, if you can call them values. Down here in the south, prisoners have always been exploited for free labor. Where is the treatment for mental illness? How about some real job training and learning how to read? I don’t condone committing crimes but our society and government should take some responsibility on how we treat and care for people we institutionalize.

  • ThilinaB

    I’m usually with you on the ‘christian privilege’ posts, but this seems like something that very few people could (and will) actually care about.

    Personally i don’t see why anyone including the sheriff even cares where the hoops go (unless there is a well documented hoop shortage in Polk County public schools and parks that the sheriff was aware of when making the decision). Getting worked up about this just seems petty and attention seeking.

    If it comes down to give the hoops to some churches or stuff it in a closet at the county jail, i say let them have it.

  • http://www.atheistsofflorida.org EllenBeth Wachs

    Hmm, it seems to be a bit more complicated than I originally even thought when I first yelled, “flag on that play.” The equipment that was removed from the jail is NOT the equipmemt that was installed at the church.
    Check out the video http://shar.es/XKd3j

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    I’m baffled by this.

    Would you be complaining if the hoops had been distributed to an atheist club? I fail to see how the government making a charitable donation to a group of people (who happen to be a church) is a problem. At what point does the government giving something to Christians constitute something that you guys will complain about? Is it a matter of slapping a sign on the front of a building?

    It sounds to me like some kids will get to play basketball.

    I’m not an American, and I’m not an atheist, but I can see how the constitution needs to be upheld when it comes to separation of church and state – but seriously. I think you guys need to pick your battles a bit better. Because this sort of thing makes Christians sympathetic to your cause a little reluctant to support it.

  • Simon

    Am I alone in kind of wishing the prisoners still had their hoops?

  • Erp

    No Simon, you aren’t alone. If anything the churches should be donating hoops, books, etc to the prisoners not accepting misappropriated goods which were meant for the use of prisoners. Hmm, perhaps the local atheist group should donate some replacement hoops to the prison.

    “I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

  • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

    @EllenBeth Wachs
    The pole they filmed taking out definitely not the one filmed being installed, but that doesn’t mean much, as there are apparently several sets of poles (how else would they be given to eight churches?)
    @Nathan
    The exact same problem would exist if he explicitly gave it to an atheist organization. It is about preferential treatment in favor of specific churches.

    One way to avoid this problem I suppose would be to take claims from all eligible organizations and draw lots.

  • http://www.atheistsofflorida.org EllenBeth Wachs

    @Cafeeine- this is true, there is more than one set but please look closely, the one that was installed is a brand spanking new net, backboard and pole. Never used. Do I need to play the scenario out?

    I visited some of the other churches, nothing has been done yet.

  • DA

    “Would you be complaining if the hoops had been distributed to an atheist club?”

    When something like this you know, actually happens, you be sure and let me know.

    “It sounds to me like some kids will get to play basketball.”

    We have places where kids can play basketball at taxpayer expense, called schools and parks. The best part of them is that everyone can use them regardless of religious affiliation and without prosyletization.

    “At what point does the government giving something to Christians constitute something that you guys will complain about?”

    At any point. They already get to not pay taxes, in exchange they get to be seperate from the government structure.

    “Because this sort of thing makes Christians sympathetic to your cause a little reluctant to support it.”

    Your concern is noted, thanks. I’ll also be sure and take strategic advice from Republicans on how to legalize gay marriage, and from PETA on how to run a ranch.

  • ACN

    “Because this sort of thing makes Christians sympathetic to your cause a little reluctant to support it.”

    Your concern is noted, thanks. I’ll also be sure and take strategic advice from Republicans on how to legalize gay marriage, and from PETA on how to run a ranch.

    Well said!

  • Anonymous
  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    So prisoners, who are in need of activities to aid in their rehabilitation, lose out to churches who are tax exempt and survive on the donations of the faithful. So rather than being rehabilitated the prisoners are being punished and rather than helping others the churches are helping themselves.

    Yeah, this all seems like normal day to day stuff in the United States of Jesusland. A place where we see the worst parts of America in caricature.

    Here’s a idea. The churches could donate the hoops to a prison where they could do some good. They could run basketball training sessions for prisoners and start a mini league. That would provide some outlet for the prisoners and focus them on non-destructive ways of living. Maybe the churches could also volunteer their time to provide educational training courses in computing, carpentry (I heard that their inspiration came from a carpentry background), or plumbing. Maybe they could start an employment scheme for released or paroled prisoners so they can put their skills into effect and become productive members of society. Why not get involved in their community rather than leeching from it?

    Better than donating bibles anyway.

    Here’s where Christians come out of the woodwork and tell us of all the good that their churches do or try to turn it round by saying that they do more than atheists do. I know that some churches and religious people do good. I know that some churches and religious people don’t do any good at all. Well here is an opportunity to demonstrate which kind of Christian you.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin, Critically Skeptic

    What’s the big deal with basketball hoops at a prison? Ugh… no wonder we have criminals, punishment is not going to solve criminal behavior.

  • Miko

    Alright, fine. I’m not concerned with whether that was the right move or not.

    You should be. The United States has five percent of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. It is the worst in the western world in its use of practices like solitary confinement, it turns a blind eye to problems like prison rape, a significant number of guards are sadistic bullies, it does nothing to rehabilitate criminals and “criminals”, it unjustly restricts the human rights of inmates, and it produces a stigma that wreaks lives. It may not be an atheism issue, but I’d say it’s a far more serious problem than the average church-state issue. Now, I realize that I’m about six standard deviations to the Left of the average person, so I don’t expect many people to agree with me on every issue. But the least you can do is consider whether you think it was the right move or not.

  • Kaylya

    I too am far more concerned about the removal of basic recreational facilities for the prisoners than the donation of hoops to the churches. Not that I think the latter was a good move either.

    “Tough on crime” aka “tough on criminals” is really just stupid policy all around – the sort of thing that sounds good in a 30 second sound byte but just completely and utterly fails to provide any sort of value for the billions of dollars spent incarcerating people longer and longer and removing any services from prisons that might make them better people in the end.

    Removing such basic recreation facilities as a place to play basketball is only going to make more of the prisoners in for minor offenses (or, not even convicted of anything yet) into drug addicted gang members or otherwise do nothing to help the often limited social skills that they have.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    Alright, fine. I’m not concerned with whether that was the right move or not.

    I am. Even if the hoops went to a school or playground. As others have pointed out, the hoops not only do serve a purpose in prision but what the hell is with the attitude that once someone is caught committing a crime, minor or major, even while they’re accused if they can’t afford bail, it’s now our job to make sure to break them totally so we can justify treating them like animals. So basically we’re calling them barbaric so we can be barbaric.

    And for all those saying, at least kids will get to play basketball, is it unique to the NE and Denver that playgrounds almost always have hoops? Because it’s the rare park that doesn’t have a court free to use. Gimme a break.

    No Simon, you aren’t alone. If anything the churches should be donating hoops, books, etc to the prisoners not accepting misappropriated goods which were meant for the use of prisoners. Hmm, perhaps the local atheist group should donate some replacement hoops to the prison.

    “I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

    Well said. Very well said.

    EllenBeth, maybe they also spent money rehabilitating the hoops? Though those do look one hell of a lot newer. God forbid (pun definitely intended), they actually spend money on rehabilitating the convicts. Good job fighting it! Keep us posted.

    “United States of Jesusland” ? Nice turn of a phrase, hoverfrog, but depressingly accurate. As for your utterly excellent suggestions, may I be shocked by them actually happening!

    It may not be an atheism issue, but I’d say it’s a far more serious problem than the average church-state issue.

    I agree. Hell, let’s nip these atrocities in the bud before they start rounding us up.

  • http:www.mountaintrail.us Joel Justiss

    I was appalled by Sheriff Judd’s justification for removing the basketball hoops. As others have pointed out, they are probably needed far more at the jail than at the churches or even in parks.

    My thought was that he would probably be inclined to please the hard-working, resentful passersby by publicly torturing the prisoners. (I seriously hope this thought was wildly inaccurate.) Could he not move the hoops to a less visible location?

  • Anonymous

    Oh man, it’s on like donkey kong!

    Atheists Plan to Sue Over Donations
    http://www.theledger.com/article/20101230/NEWS/12305053?p=1&tc=pg

    [Sheriff] Judd seemed to relish the opportunity to tangle with the group over the issue, and said a Lakeland law firm — Valenti Campbell Trohn Tamayo & Aranda — has offered the Sheriff’s Office free representation.

    “They have no idea how much I look forward to their silliness,” Judd told reporters.

    Cerabino: Polk sheriff serves up a moron elixir
    http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/cerabino-polk-sheriff-serves-up-a-moron-elixir-1154584.html

    Judd brushed aside the atheists, calling them an “small, obscure group”, and reveled in their opposition, saying it has already resulted in support from the community and a local law firm offering to defend his actions in a lawsuit.

    And who cares about the constitution anyway? The people who robustly fetishize the constitution over health care and other conservative bugaboos won’t say a peep here. It’s only a selectively sacred document.

  • DA

    He sounds a lot like Joe Arpaio. I wonder if just being a total asshole is some kind of prerequisite for being elected Sherrif.

  • http://www.atheistsofflorida.org EllenBeth Wachs

    On like “donkey kong” No more like the corrupt fascist officials that they are in that they have wielded the power of the police state against the leadership of Atheists of Florida in an attempt of intimidate and bully us. The President, John Kieffer was arrested at a school board meeting for protesting prayer and I was arrested a week later at my house by a swat team of PCSO undercover deputies that invaded like an army and pointed guns at my internet employees while they trashed my house and took my computers and cell phone and ipod because I signed records requests with the honorific,”Esq” being that I am a retired attorney.

    See the articles exposing this.

    http://www.polkcountydemocrat.com/articles/2011/03/12/news/local/doc4d7a9aa9d07c1538611206.txt

    http://www.polkcountydemocrat.com/articles/2011/03/19/news/local/doc4d83d13892776726067337.txt


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