THERE was nothing ‘inappropriate’ in a Texas judge’s decision on Wednesday to hand a convicted murderer a Bible, insists Dallas County District Attorney John Cruezotto.
But the Freedom from Religion Foundation – described by Christian News as an “anti-Christian” organisation, vehemently disagrees with Cruezotto, and has filed a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct after Judge Tammy Kemp “inappropriately proselytised to the defendant, Amber Guyger.
Guyger is the former Dallas police officer who was sentenced to 10 years for fatally shooting her neighbour.
Under the headline “‘For God So Loved the World’: Judge Gives Amber Guyger a Bible After Botham Jean Murder Trial” Christian News reported that, when Kemp gave Guyger the Bible and told her to start reading John 3:16, she was publicly expressing:
Care and concern for Guyger’s soul.
And it quoted Cruezotto, above, as saying:
If anyone complained, I would do everything I could to support the appropriateness of it. I can’t tell you I’ve done the same exact thing, but I have spoken to defendants, have given them a hug, perhaps. Not given a Bible, that’s not me, but I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about what she did, and I would support that, if anyone tried to file a complaint, I would do my best to intercede and protect her.
In a statement issued a day after the incident, the FFRF revealed that it had filed a complaint and said:
The statement continued:
Judge Tammy Kemp tried former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in her courtroom over the past few weeks for the murder of Botham Jean. FFRF is urging the commission to investigate Kemp’s actions at the close of the trial: gifting a bible, instructing a convicted criminal on how to read the Bible and which passages to pay attention to and proselytizing and witnessing to that convicted murderer. These judicial actions were inappropriate and unconstitutional.
Courtroom video shows that following the sentencing and victim impact statement, Kemp left the courtroom and came back with her personal bible. She then gifted her bible to Guyger, instructed her on how to read the bible and which passages to pay attention to. Kemp said: ‘You can have [my bible]. I have three or four more at home. This is the one I use everyday. This is your job for the next month. Right here. John: 3:16. And this is where you start, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
She continued, ‘He has a purpose for you. This will strengthen you. You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this.’
Kemp then hugged Guyger and said to her, ‘It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ. I’m not so good. You haven’t done as much as you think you have, and you can be forgiven. You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.’
Government employees may not use the power and privilege of their offices to preach their personal religious beliefs, FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker point out in a letter to the commission.
It violates the constitutional separation between state and church for a sitting judge to promote personal religious beliefs while acting in her official capacity. She was in a government courtroom, dressed in a judicial robe, with all of the imprimatur of the state, including armed law enforcement officers, preaching to someone who was quite literally a captive audience. Delivering bibles, bible studies and personal witness as a judge is an abuse of power.
FFRF notes that Kemp appears to have generally handled a difficult and widely publicized trial with grace and aplomb, but that her decision to preach the bible to a criminal defendant was a serious First Amendment violation and signaled to everyone watching that she is partial to Christian notions of forgiveness.
We believe that our criminal justice system needs more compassion from judges and prosecutors, but here compassion crossed the line into coercion. And there can be few relationships more coercive than a sentencing judge in a criminal trial and a citizen accused and convicted of a crime.
FFRF asks that the commission investigate these actions and educate Kemp on her obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion to prevent future misconduct.