The Knoxville Police Department removed a plaque displaying a Bible verse after the East Tennessee Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Wisconsin, threatened to sue the city if it did not comply with orders to take down the religious sign.
The plaque featured the Bible verse, Romans 8:31, which reads: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
It reportedly hung on a wall near an employee deli inside the Knoxville Safety Building, where the Knoxville Police Department (KPD) is headquartered and had been on display for nearly five decades.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero stated the Bible verse was not in a public area.
A member of the East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation noticed the sign when he went to the Knoxville Police Department to give a statement regarding witnessing a car accident.
The organization later filed a complaint with city leaders about the plaque and gave them a deadline to take down the sign. The group also threatened a lawsuit if the city failed to comply with its orders.
The city’s leaders succumbed to the threats and took down the plaque during a ceremony Friday morning, where it was reportedly relocated to a Hall of Inspiration inside the building, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Knoxville police deputy chief Cindy Gass wrote to her employees, announcing the ceremony: “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.”
During a Wednesday news conference, Rogero stated the controversial plague crossed a “clearly established line” with government promoting a particular religion.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett issued a statement urging Mayor Rogero and the city to take the Freedom From Religion organization to court.
“Mayor Rogero is my friend, but I would fight this one. I wouldn’t yield to extortionists,” he said. “Ultimately, I have to answer to God, not some outfit from out of town who make their living just suing people.
“What I don’t understand is, with atheists, if they don’t believe in God, what do they care? It just doesn’t make much sense to me,” he said.
“At some point, folks that follow my belief systems are just going to be legislated out of existence and, to me, it is discrimination against me and my beliefs,” Burchett added.
On Thursday, Rogero issued the following statements in response to Burchett’s remarks:
“I’m happy to clear up some misunderstanding and overreaction to this issue. My friend Mayor Burchett will be glad to know the plaque is not being removed, it is merely being moved from one side of the doorway to the other, where it will share a room with other inspirational quotes,” Rogero said.
“It will hang over the exit door and will be the last thing our officers see as they head out on patrol,” she continued. “This is a great solution suggested by KPD officers to resolve the constitutional issues that had been raised.”
City Councilman Nick Della Volpe also publicly stated he was “shocked and saddened” by Rogero’s decision. “Why should we forfeit our history and our heritage voluntarily because a few extremists back their objection? Better it be pried from our cold dead hands than voluntarily surrendered,” he wrote.
— Laura Halm (@WATELauraHalm) July 26, 2017
— knoxnews (@knoxnews) July 28, 2017
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