In April I wrote about how a sheriff in Tennessee by the name of Eric Watson was using the police station’s official facebook page to evangelize. American Atheists was none too happy about it. They sent him a letter telling him to stop doing things like making posts titled “The Time We Live In,” in which Watson said that “Living today is best done with a lot of prayer.”
How did Watson respond? By wondering why people were criticizing his Christian faith, as if that had happened:
Sheriff Eric Watson said he was open about his faith before he was elected and will remain so while in office.
“I respect the right of others to believe as they so choose, but my personal faith in Christ is absolute. I will not alter or change my faith for any reason,” Watson said.
You can be Christian all you want, but you can’t use your official government capacity to evangelize. That’s a whole different matter, and it speaks to either Watson’s intellect or his intellectual honesty (or both) that he can’t tell the difference. Nobody was asking him to not be a Christian, they’re asking him, as they would ask any citizen (particularly a fucking sheriff) to not break the law.
Watson fired back:
“The organization does not capitalize the word “bible” throughout the letter.”
Is there a law against that? Then let’s keep our eye on the ball, Sheriff. You’re breaking established Common Law. American atheists didn’t capitalize a word which, grammatically, doesn’t need to be capitalized. Get your priorities straight.
“When I campaigned for the office of sheriff, and before that, the office of state representative, I never made any effort to hide or deny my strong, personal Christian faith,” Watson said.
Which is fine as a private citizen. But when you work for the government it doesn’t matter if the majority in Bradley County want you to use your post to evangelize or if they want you to arrest every brown-skinned person on the basis of their skin color, regardless of how Christian/racist you were before being elected you can’t start breaking the law once you have the job.
You’re the freaking sheriff. You ought to know this. It shouldn’t take legal experts sending you letters to explain how you, the law enforcement official, are breaking the law.
“This group obviously does not look at our entire record,” Watson said. “The BCSO’s main purpose is to protect all of the citizens of Bradley County. We are seeing success in that purpose. Our arrest rates are up and we have solved many of the serious crimes very quickly.”
And I tip big at restaurants. Does that earn me break-the-law-with-no-consequences credits? It’s great that you’re doing your job. Nobody’s complaining about any of that stuff. But it’s also your job to obey the law (as well as enforce it), and on that front you’re doing a piss poor job.
- The county will pay $15,000 in damages to American Atheists and our two local plaintiffs who were blocked from the department’s page.
- The county will pay an additional $26,000 in legal fees
- The original Bradley County Sheriff’s Department page will remain shut down
- The Sheriff will have a new page that is “informational only,” meaning that it will serve roughly the same purpose as the previous page, but comments from the public will not be allowed
- The sheriff will not post any religious messages on this official page
- The sheriff will be allowed to maintain a personal public page that is clearly marked as not monitored by the department and must disclaim that it is not an official government page
- As with most of these settlements, the sheriff and the county admit no wrongdoing
By the way thank you, legal counsel of Bradley County, for talking Watson into settling on this rather than losing more money in a foredoomed lawsuit. I wish you’d have gotten to him sooner and just told him to follow the law so the county wouldn’t have lost $41,000 because their sheriff is a dunce.
And it was so. fucking. unnecessary. Sheriff Watson should have known the basics of law. Hell I, a blogger and not a law enforcement official, could’ve filled him in for free. There’s no excuse someone like me should know this and he shouldn’t.
Even still, he could’ve consulted the county’s legal counsel before saying any of the stupid shit he said. He could’ve called them up and asked, “Is there any meat to this?” It would’ve taken what, two minutes? Maybe?
But no, this derp who gets to carry around a gun spouts off and costs the county $41,000. And who will much of the population blame? The law-breaker who flouted his law-breaking? Nope! They’ll blame the evil atheists who wouldn’t let the poor Christian keep breaking the law with impunity. That’s the real sad part of the story. Watson isn’t just one lone person who thinks he’s above the law, they’re everywhere, and they think America should elevate them over everybody else.
It’s a pity the residents with some sense are on the hook for this bill as much as that self-important lot.