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This is what it looks like when you walk into the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina.

The message is clear: Non-Christians will not get a fair hearing from anyone who works here. This is a Christian facility through and through.

When the Freedom From Religion Foundation was informed about this, they sent a letter to the office calling for them to take down the verse (or paint over it), explaining in detail why this promotion of Christianity was illegal:

“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Sheriff Jody Greene. “The court has also ruled, ‘The Establishment Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief.’ Like the Ten Commandments posters in county buildings in McCreary (2005) and the crèche display on county land in Allegheny (1989), this bible verse display promoting Christianity in a sheriff’s office building is correctly viewed by a reasonable observer as an endorsement of religion, and is therefore unconstitutional.

It’s not just this Bible verse either. Just this weekend, they posted a Christmas message that went far beyond “Merry Christmas” and effectively declared Christianity the religion for everyone, making a reference to “our lord and savior”:

When the people tasked with carrying out the law decide to brazenly break the law in the name of Jesus, they’re undermining their own legitimacy. This doesn’t have to be resolved in court. The question is whether the people running this place think the rules don’t apply to them. If they’re wrong — and they’re absolutely wrong — taxpayers aren going to be on the hook for their ignorance if this winds up before a judge.

And yet since that letter was sent to the sheriff’s office two weeks ago, there’s been nothing but defiance.

Sheriff Jody Greene posted a message on the office’s official Facebook page doubling down on their Christian advertising.

… It was paid for with private funds, not with county funding. The verse is one of my favorite Bible verses, and it seemed fitting for all the adversity I have had to endure. It is very motivational to me and my staff. Here at the Sheriff’s Office, we work hard in everything that we do. Before we execute a search warrant, or any service that puts our people in immediate harms way, we ALWAYS go to the Lord with a group prayer. ALWAYS!

I was raised in church. I have been in law enforcement for over thirty years. My training taught me to value God, family, and my country. Going back to the Bible verse, I have taken many pictures with that Bible verse in the backdrop with not a single issue, but now that we are going into an election year, it is an issue. How absurd! It seems to me we have a few sheep in wolves clothing. That’s all. This is a political ploy. Some want a person that they can control. Companies spend thousands of dollars on motivational classes, to come up with motivational slogans. My motivation comes from the greatest motivational speaker of all times, Jesus Christ.

… Just look at where our society is headed. It is time, past time, to stand up. So let me be clear, I will not waiver on my stance and Christian beliefs.

Cue the joke about how Jody Greene only has one job

He seems to think that because the Bible verse was privately funded, it can go up in a government facility. That’s a lie. (I’m sure Satanists would be happy to donate funding for a message of their own in the building. Where’s the application?)

He seems to think that because Jesus is important to him, he can promote it through the sheriff’s office. That’s a lie. (If the sheriff were Muslim, would the same rule apply?)

He seems to think anyone’s asking him to give up his Christian faith. That’s a lie. No one cares how he chooses to waste his time. This is about what he’s allowed to do while on the clock for his taxpayer-funded job.

He also freely admits they promote Christianity in the office… which should be very useful information in any potential legal battle. (If another sheriff’s office promoted atheism before an arrest in the same way, would Greene appreciate it?)

This has nothing to do with it being an election year — hell, it’s still 2021 — and everything to do with Christian privilege. Just because no one raised a concern about it until recently doesn’t mean it was okay in the past. If Greene ever read another book, maybe he’d realize that.

He clearly wants to work at a church, so why not take a job that fits his narrow-mindedness? He’s not interested in protecting the public; he wants to use his power to push his faith on others.

FFRF hasn’t said if a lawsuit will be filed. There are a lot of things that have to happen before they go that route, including having a local plaintiff willing to put up with the inevitable threats from angry Christians who are as ignorant as Greene. But this is a fairly straightforward issue.

The simple fact is that if Greene were promoting anything besides Christianity, the question wouldn’t be whether it needed to stop, but how quickly it was going to happen.

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