Police chief in US county takes flak for speaking at church in uniform

(Photo: REUTERS / James Lawler Duggan)Greg Scott of the Alliance Defending Freedom speaks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court after it heard arguments in the case of Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway, in Washington November 6, 2013. The Supreme Court today heard the case concerning public prayers before town meetings and whether it violates the Constitution.

The Sheriff in Florida's Polk County, Grady Judd, is under fire from a national group that fights for the separation of church and State and says several residents complained about him speaking at his local Baptist church.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking issue with Sheriff Grady Judd preaching a Christian message before a congregation at his home church while wearing his police uniform.

A video of Judd speaking at the First Baptist Church at the Mall, at 1010 East Memorial Blvd. Lakeside, on April 19, sparked the controversy Channel 10 News reported June 16.

The foundation based in Madison, Wisconsin sent Judd a letter this week in which its attorney Andrew Seidel said wearing the police uniform is the problem.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation said the video caused several Polk residents to question if Judd was violating the separation of church and State by appearing in uniform while he spoke.

Seidel said about five people contacted their organization taking issue with the sheriff's remarks and clothing choice, and that's when they started researching, 8wfla.com reported.

"It is our understanding that you regularly give sermons at the First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland using a Polk County government office, uniform, and title.

"For instance, on April 19, 2015 you gave a sermon at entitled 'Wouldn't the world be better if everyone behaved like a Christian.'

"You gave the sermon dressed in your Polk County Sheriff's Office Class 'A' uniform, proclaimed your support for faith-based jailing, and claimed that the best way to reform individuals who have broken the law is through Jesus.

(Photo: Channel 10 News screegrab)

"You are also listed as 'Sheriff Grady Judd' repeatedly on the church website, including as a preacher."                                             

Judd said the foundation took his message out of context and distorted it to meet its results.

"When people call the sheriff's office and ask me to come speak, I'm going to wear my uniform, you can guarantee it."

Seidel wrote that as a government official Sheriff Judd was legally bound not to promote religious choices.

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"Of course you are free to attend church, preach at your church, and even teach Sunday school. But you cannot preach in church as Sheriff Judd, you must do so as Mr. Judd, private citizen."

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