A North Carolina sheriff who’s garnered national attention for refusing to remove a Bible verse from a wall at his office cited a need for “more Jesus” as the reason for his decision not to comply with the demands of a leading atheist legal organization to take it down.
Jody Greene, the sheriff of Columbus County, North Carolina, addressed the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation’s concerns about the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 being displayed on a wall at the Sheriff’s Office in a Facebook post last week.
The Facebook post came two weeks after FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Greene asking him to remove the “exclusionary” and “unconstitutional religious display,” which proclaims, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Greene pushed back on the claim that the display constituted a “government sponsorship of religious messages.”
The sheriff added: “The Bible verse was placed on the wall after I took office. 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.”
After describing the scripture as being “very motivational to me and my staff,” Greene contended that there was a political motive behind the sudden outcry over its presence at the sheriff’s office: “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!”
“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 time, Jesus Christ,” he added.
Greene lamented that “drugs and violence are killing our youth” before concluding that “We need more Jesus and less politics.” He also expressed gratitude for “all the phone calls and messages of support” for the Bible verse.
“I am not scared of much, but I am afraid of burning in Hell,” he said. The post included an image from FFRF announcing an “Unabashed Atheist/Nonbeliever of the week” featuring a headshot of the “unabashed freethinker” in a “silhouette of the devil and flames.” Greene pointed to the image as a warning of “where our society is headed,” as well as an example of the need to “stand up.” He further declared that “I will not waiver on my stance and Christian beliefs.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor elaborated on the organization’s concerns in a statement. “The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office must serve all citizens equally, whether Christian or non-Christian,” she asserted. “A blatantly Christian message in a law enforcement division sends a message of exclusion.”
In his Dec. 6 letter to Greene, Line noted that FFRF first became aware of the display as the result of a complaint from a “concerned Columbus County resident.” He asked the sheriff’s office to “respond in writing detailing the actions the Sheriff’s Office has taken” to rectify the concerns of the complainant.
Line listed several U.S. Supreme Court cases that found the “First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” He also argued that “The Establishment Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief” in an effort to back up his claim that the Bible verse display is unconstitutional.
Line indicated that the presence of Philippians 4:13 on a wall at the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office was not the only example of the government agency making an “unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.” The FFRF attorney began the letter by noting that “we are still awaiting a response to our January 26, 2021 letter regarding the Sheriff’s Office regularly promoting Christianity on its official Facebook page.”
On Christmas Day 2020, the sheriff’s office posted a Christmas message on its Facebook account that said, “Merry Christmas to all and Happy Birthday to our lord and savior. To all that are working today, we thank you and hope you all have a very merry Christmas. #InGodWeTrust.”
The sheriff’s office posted a similar message on its Facebook page this year.
In his response to FFRF, Greene detailed how Christianity plays a role in the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office as well as in his own life: “Before we execute a search warrant, or any service that puts our people in immediate harm’s way, we ALWAYS go to the Lord with a group prayer. ALWAYS! I was raised in the church. I have been in law enforcement for over thirty years. My training taught me to value God, family, and my country.”
North Carolina resident Franklin Graham, the CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the son of legendary televangelist Billy Graham, encouraged his followers to “pray for Sheriff Greene and his staff” in a Facebook post on Monday. “I’m thankful this Sheriff knows where the true solution to life’s challenges and problems comes from, and he is standing his ground,” Graham wrote.