Crawford County Sheriff’s Office asked to stop engaging in religious practices, events

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,263 views 

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is asking the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office to stop promotion of religious programs, events and other activities that violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

On April 24, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook more than 50 pictures of inmates being baptized.

The Facebook post noted: “With the help of Capt V.C Winters, Chief Brad Wiley and Sheriff Daniel Perry we want to give a big thank you to Kibler Baptist Church for being present in our facility this past Sunday on April 23, 2023. 38 incarcerated Men and Women accepted Jesus Christ behind bars. ‘Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” — Romans 6:4”

“We write to ensure that the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office ceases its promotion of, and official affiliation with, Christianity on its official social media pages and through its programs and activities in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” noted a May 17 letter from FFRF attorney Christopher Line. “While the Sheriff’s Office may permissibly accommodate the free exercise rights of its inmates by providing opportunities for religious worship, Crawford County and its employees may not organize, promote, or participate in religious events and activities, or promote religion on its social media pages.”

Screen image from Crawford County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

Line also noted: “The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages. The Supreme Court has said time and time again that the Establishment Clause ‘mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As of May 30, Line told Talk Business & Politics he is not aware of any response from Sheriff Daniel Perry or anyone representing the county. An email sent to Perry on Tuesday asking about the FFRF letter did not receive a response.

Line also noted in the letter that open violation of the U.S. Constitution may prove expensive for the county. Line cited a similar action against the Bradley County, Tenn., sheriff’s office that resulted in the county paying more than $40,000 in damages and attorney fees.

Line also wrote that allowing a religious preference sends a message that the department may treat some citizens with bias.

“We hope you will agree that the Sheriff’s Office must be even-handed and avoid any appearance of bias toward some citizens, or hostility toward others. The promotion of Christianity by your department sends a message that excludes the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including the nearly one in three Americans who are nonreligious,” Line wrote.

Line’s letter also included two requests for information under Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act. The Madison, Wis.-based FFRF requested:
“All records related to the organization of, participation in, or advertising of the inmate baptisms and religious programs described above or in the Facebook post; and All communication (including but not limited to email) sent to or from any representative of the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office regarding the planning of, participation in, or advertising of inmate baptisms described above.”

Link here for a PDF copy of Line’s letter to Sheriff Perry.