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Last week, the Knoxville (TN) Police Department said they would finally take down a plaque quoting Romans 8:31 that was hanging in the building.

The East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation had made the request on behalf of a local resident and the law was absolutely on their side.


At the time, however, the city tried to save face by saying they just didn’t want to waste taxpayer money in court.

[City Law Director Charles] Swanson said the city could have defended the plaque in court against the group’s claim it violates principles of separation of church and state. But he said he agreed with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s position not to spend taxpayer money to fund that defense.

“We could argue in favor it keeping it, what’s the real point?” Swanson said. “I don’t think it was in a place where the public could see it. But it certainly didn’t seem like it was worth financing a fight.”

That’s a polite way of saying, “The atheists are forcing us to do this! We would love to fight this, but it would take up time and resources. BLAME THEM, NOT US!”

Naturally, there was an outcry from Christians who couldn’t believe the city was caving in to the demands of those pesky atheists. The Christian Broadcasting Network even reached out to city officials with a couple of basic follow-up questions: If this was only about money, why didn’t they accept free legal help from all those conservative groups that live for these battles? Did none of them reach out to the city?!

Way to call their bluff. Because the city now has a brand new excuse for why they won’t fight this battle: The atheists were right.

… when CBN News inquired whether the city considered seeking legal help from law firms such as as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Center for Law and Justice or The Christian Legal Society, who sometimes litigate religious freedom cases for free, Knoxville Communications Director Jesse Mayshark said other officials determined the Freedom From Religion Foundation was correct and the plaque had to go.

In fact, Mayor Madeline Rogero, who identifies as a Christian, said in a news conference, “As our founders recognized when they wrote the Constitution, the best protection for religious liberty is to restrict the government’s role in promoting or endorsing any particular faith.”

“As Christians, we may not always realize that our co-workers or our constituents do not all see the world the same way we do. We may not understand that a Bible verse that gives us strength and comfort may send an entirely different message to someone else: That you are not welcome here, that this governmental body does not represent you,” Rogero added.

Whoa! How’s that for a 180?! The city rejected all that legal help because they knew they would lose in court. And when they lost, they knew they would still be on the hook for the atheists’ legal fees.

Mayor Rogero should have been saying this from the very beginning instead of letting her team pretend the atheists were the bad guys for pointing out the violation. She and her entire staff and administration owe the East Tennessee atheists an apology — and a note of appreciation for bringing this to their attention so they could fix it.

The police department will now create a “Hall of Inspiration” including messages from a variety of religious and secular sources. I’m not exactly sure how a line from the Qur’an that says “And he is with you wherever you are” is supposed to inspire anybody, and the original biblical message that refers to the “children of God” will still be there for no good reason, but it seems like this will at least avoid legal trouble since it’s not promoting one particular faith.

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.