POLK COUNTY, FL (WFLA) — A group that fights for the separation of church and state wants the Polk County sheriff to find a Sunday suit if he’s going to take the pulpit. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking issue with Sheriff Grady Judd preaching a Christian message before congregations while wearing his uniform.
On Monday, the group sent the sheriff a letter with their concerns. They stated they would pursue legal action if the sheriff does not change his clothing choice. “We don’t have any problem with him preaching in church and we don’t have any problem with him teaching Sunday School, he’s free to do that,” Andrew Seidel, Attorney for FFRF, said. “What he’s not allowed to do is use the public government office and title and uniform to promote his personal religion.”
The issue centers on a message the sheriff delivered at his home church, First Baptist Church at the Mall on April 19. 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.
The sheriff spoke to more than 2,500 people in a message titled “Wouldn’t the World be a Better Place if Everyone Behaved like a Christian. Using examples of faith-based practices he started in the Polk County jail, he gave first-hand accounts of how lives have changed for the better. He pointed out that hundreds of inmates have given their lives over to Jesus and been baptized while serving time in Polk County. First Baptist Church at The Mall Pastor Jay Dennis told News Channel 8 that Judd addresses his congregation every year.
In a statement to 24-Hour News 8’s sister station WFLA, Dennis said,
The uniform represents more than the office, it represents the man behind it. It is the man behind it that I asked to speak whether he is in uniform or out of uniform. I would think people would be proud to have a sheriff whose life and message, speech and conduct, is consistent with everything that uniform stands for. Grady asked me if I would prefer he wear a suit, but as I said to him, ‘It doesn’t matter to me. You are the message.'”
Judd said he speaks to about 15-20 churches a year and has no plans to slow down or change clothes.
“Let me say this clearly and unequivocally, when people call the Sheriff’s Office and ask me to come speak, I’m gonna come speak and I’m gonna wear my uniform- you can guarantee it,” Judd said.