JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — A prominent professing atheist group is seeking to put an end a Tennessee police department’s “Adopt a Cop” program, which invites local residents to pray for members of the city’s police force.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter on Tuesday to the Johnson City Police Department to object to the program. The initiative involves assigning an officer to those who sign up for the effort, who in turn promise to pray daily for the officer’s safety and well-being, as well as to send him or her a word of encouragement.
The program, which was launched in November, has garnered support from area churches, and is believed to be an offshoot of the International Transformation Network’s national program, led by Ed Silvoso.
“There can be tension between law enforcement and the community, and so morale can be down. The families of officers are under tremendous stress, [and] everyday an officer has no idea what the job will look like,” organizer Becky Haas told local television station WCYB. “So I think we’re kind of in step with what a lot of other communities are doing to let our police know how much we appreciate them.”
But FFRF says that the effort is unconstitutional since it is derived from a Christian program and encourages prayer.
“While it is admirable to look out for the safety, emotional strength, health, wisdom, stability and character of your officers, it is not appropriate for the JCPD to do so through a religious program that is not actually providing any protection for your officers, but only wishing for it in the form of Christian prayers,” staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Police Chief Mark Sirois.
“JCPD’s participation and advancement of this Christian ‘Adopt a Cop’ program is problematic,” he continued. “It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government cannot in any way promote, advance or otherwise endorse religion.”
FFRF subsequently asked that the Johnson City Police Department remove itself from participation in the program.
“JCPD should focus on programs that actually make a difference in people’s lives rather than expending any department resources for ineffectual Christian programming,” Seidel wrote.
It is not known whether Chief Sirois intends to respond.
Jedidiah Morse, the author of the first textbook on American geography, stated in 1799, “In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief or the corruption of its doctrines, in the same proportion will the people of the nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom and approximate the miseries of complete despotism.”