The Knoxville Police Department in Tennessee announced this week that it will relocate an inspiring plaque that has been on display in the station headquarters for years after an atheist group complained it violates the First Amendment.
“I have walked through those doors for a lot of years and that sign has been there giving me strength, encouragement, and comfort to do this job,” KPD Deputy Chief Cindy Gass wrote in an email to KPD employees announcing the decision to take down the plaque.
The sign, which has been on display near the employee deli, an area not visible to the public, quotes Romans 8:31, reading, “If God be for us, then who can be against us?” according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
But rather than being removed entirely, the plaque will be relocated to a new Hall of Inspiration inside the department’s safety building, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said. The long-standing plaque will be displayed alongside other inspirational quotes, religious verses, and proverbs, the Washington Post reported.
The decision came after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a prominent atheist group, complained about the plaque earlier this year. Aleta Ledendecker, president of the East Tennessee branch of the FFRF, said in February that, with the plaque, the Knoxville police are promoting Christianity over every other religion.
“Please see that the verse is removed so that all who enter your police station may feel equally treated,” she wrote in a letter to Rausch.
City Law Director Charles Swanson said earlier this week that Knoxville could have fought the FFRF in court, but neither he nor Mayor Madeline Rogero (D) wanted to spend taxpayer dollars on the matter.
“We could argue in favor of keeping it, what’s the real point?” Swanson asked. “I don’t think it was in a place where the public could see it. But it certainly didn’t seem like it was worth financing a fight.”
Rogero, who described herself as a “person of faith,” sided with the FFRF, saying the plaque’s placement in the Knoxville Police Department headquarters crossed a “clearly established line” by promoting one religion over others.
“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,” she explained. “But we do not govern according to the dictates of our faiths.”
According to the News Sentinel, Rausch defended the mayor, saying she did not order the sign to be removed. Instead, he said, the department decided to remove the plaque to avoid a legal fight.
Nevertheless, Rausch used the moment to emphasize his own Christian faith.
“[I] will be praying for those who brought about this ‘issue,’” he said. “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.”
The sign will be taken down from its current location during a special ceremony Friday morning.