KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A police department in Tennessee has decided to relocate a Scripture plaque that has long been displayed on its walls following receipt of a complaint from a prominent atheist activist organization.
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch explained during a news conference on Wednesday that the plaque, which quotes from Romans 8:31, will be moved from near the employee deli to a soon-coming Hall of Inspiration inside the the Safety Building.
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, then who can be against us?” it reads.
Rausch had received an email from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which asserted that the plaque was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The group threatened a lawsuit if the display was not removed.
“Please note that the Knoxville Police Department is a government entity and as such should be devoid of religious promotion of any kind,” the correspondence read. “Having a Bible verse promotes one particular religion and in so doing is discriminatory toward those of other religions or no religion.”
“Please see that the verse is removed so that all who enter your police station may feel equally treated,” it said. “Failure to have the verse removed may expose the KPD and/or the City of Knoxville to expensive litigation that cannot be won.”
Mayor Madeline Rogero, who identifies as a Christian, advised during Wednesday’s press conference that officials did indeed consult with Knoxville law director Charles Swanson and concluded that it was in the best interest of the city not to spend taxpayer money defending the plaque.
“As a person of faith, I understand and respect the passion that people feel on this issue,” Rogero also said. “As a Christian, I’m thankful for fellow Christians who feel their faith so strongly that they want to share it with the world and I respect people of other faiths who feel the same.”
However, she added, “But we do not govern according to the dictates of our faiths. We govern first and foremost under the authority of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee.”
FFRF said that it is pleased with the decision, calling it a “step in the right direction.”
“Can you imagine how Christians would feel if they walked in and, instead of a Christian plaque, there was a plaque of Islam or Judaism? How would they feel?” attorney Aleta Ledendecker told local television station WATE. “Well, this must be a police department that favors one religion over others.”
However, former investigator, Don Wiser, told reporters that when a nation turns away from Jesus, wickedness abounds.
“I believe in Jesus, and I believe that when they turn their back on Jesus that we’re going to be in bad shape,” Wiser said. “I think that, as wicked as our people are getting, I think that’s the wrong thing to do, to take that off there.”
Rausch said he will be praying for FFRF.
“I pray that their souls will be softened by the love of God, and they understand that they can have us remove words but they cannot remove our faith and what is in our hearts,” he wrote in an email obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel.
An online petition has already been circulated in an effort to keep the plaque.