A Louisiana sheriff is doubling down and pledging to carry on with "In God We Trust," a public prayer event and July 4 celebration that the American Civil Liberties Union has decried as unconstitutional.
Sheriff Julian Whittington of Bossier Parish, Louisiana, is holding the second annual event — which will include church groups and faith themes — on city-owned property, which is why the civil rights group is decrying it as a potential church-state violation.
But despite pushback, the top cop isn't backing down.
"Not only am I elected to serve the people of Bossier Parish, but I live here and my family lives here. I think Bossier Parish is a better place with Christianity and Christian values involved in it," he told the Shreveport Times. "I am an elected official. I’m also a citizen here. I think this is what’s best for us. I don’t work for anybody in Washington. What they do, what they say, I couldn’t really care less."
"In God We Trust," which will offer free food, activities and faith-based and patriotic music for families, will open with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance around 1 p.m. Friday. In addition to these elements, families will enjoy church music performances, and patriotic videos and speeches, according to the sheriff department's official Facebook page.
While the event won't rely on any public funds to pay for food or activities, it will be held at a sheriff's substation, a public building.
Marjorie Esman, executive director of Louisiana's ACLU, has said that the prayer event is constitutionally problematic, as it "sends a message of government endorsement of Christianity."
"If the religious messages are overtly Christian and suggest that Christianity is better than other religions, and if there is a link to public funding or support, this would overstep the law," Esman wrote in an email to the Times. "In any event, it sends a message to Bossier residents who do not adhere to Christianity that they are less than equal and not worthy of support by their sheriff."
But Whittington defended the event, noting that the nation was founded on faith and that he finds it "ridiculous" that there is frustration and pushback over "In God We Trust."
Image via Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office/Facebook
"The idea that a small meeting in Bossier City somehow needs federal approval is ridiculous," he added. "That the mere mention of God or voluntary prayer is not permitted is equally ridiculous."
Whittington also said that people are starting to realize how important it is to defend religious liberty.
Speaking specifically about the recent Greece vs. Galloway Supreme Court decision, which found that prayer at public meetings does not violate the Constitution, he expressed surprise that the vote was 5-4, indicating that he believes other justices should have voted on the side of prayer.
"For the most part, people have sat back and left it up to someone else and not worried about it," Whittington said. "It’s time to be worried."
This isn't the sheriff's first free speech battle, as his office's Young Marines program — a youth service and education initiative — was denied funding from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013 over the fact that the group allows for voluntary student prayer, according to KTBS-TV.
More than 1,000 people attended last year's "In God We Trust" event.
(H/T: Christian Post)