Lawyer Wants Religious Post Off Sheriff's Website
The Weber County Sheriff's Office Facebook Page
January 14, 2011
WEBER COUNTY, UT – A Utah civil rights attorney says a religion-laced post on the Weber County sheriff’s office Facebook page violates state and federal laws separating church and state.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Salt Lake City-based attorney Brian Barnard asks Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson to remove the post from the social networking site.
The letter to employees and staff states they are engaged in “meaningful service to God and country” and encourages them to let God carry their burdens.
“Always know that God, in whatever from you picture Him, recognizes our sacrifice and service, understands our imperfections and blesses us,” Thompson’s letter states.
Thompson also tells employees about his attempt to become involved the Utah firing squad execution of a convicted killer some years ago. He said he would have been comfortable participating because he believes the death penalty is morally sound, comparing it to a soldier taking the lives of others during battle or to citizens who take another’s life to protect their own safety or the safety of others.
“It is OK because God is okay with it!” Thompson wrote.
Barnard’s letter to Thompson, which was provided to The Associated Press, contends the sheriff’s words promote an improper endorsement of religion in the workplace. Barnard said Weber County’s own policies prohibit the discussion of religion at work, particularly by supervisors.
Late Wednesday, Thompson told The Associated Press the letter had been removed from Facebook, but said he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong.
“I disagree with the opinions of Mr. Barnard and the Utah Civil Rights and Liberties Foundation,” said Thompson, calling Barnard’s views extremist. “I don’t believe it’s a violation. I would at the very least recommend that he read the nation’s motto, ‘In God We Trust.’ ”
Thompson said the letter was meant only to bolster employee morale, not to promote any specific religion or religious point of view. He said it was employees who had encouraged him to post the letter for a wider audience.
“I just believe that far and wide the average American would look at [the letter] and agree with it,” he said.
Barnard said he was contacted last week by a sheriff’s office employee who was bothered by the letter, which was sent to staff in a Jan. 3 e-mail. A date stamp on Facebook shows the letter was posted Jan. 4.
“Government shouldn’t be involved in religion, and here we have a government official using government resources, expressing his religious beliefs and making pronouncement that appear to be officials pronouncements of the sheriff’s office,” Barnard said.
Barnard said the letter may leave staff who don’t share Thompson’s beliefs uncomfortable.
“It’s not [Thompson’s] role as elected official to make those kinds of pronouncements,” he said. “Subordinates clearly can’t respond or would not feel comfortable responding or being in disagreement.”
Neither Thompson nor the county’s attorney, who also received a copy of the demand letter, had contacted Barnard by Wednesday afternoon. Barnard also said he was considering filing a lawsuit against the county.
“That’s OK,” Thompson said. “People can sue for any reason they want.”