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.