City of Knoxville releases emails about Bible verse plaque

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The City of Knoxville released dozens of email conversations from inside the Knoxville Police Department and Mayor’s Office about the decision to move the Bible verse plaque hanging in the Knoxville Safety Building.

The plaque was moved on July 21 after a complaint from the East Tennessee Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The plaque referenced the Bible verse Romans 8:31. It was moved from the employee entrance to a newly created Hall of Inspiration. The plaque will now hang with other documents like The Constitution, a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., and other verses from the Bible, the Qua ran, and Aristotle.

Previous Story: Bible verse plaque moved inside Knoxville Safety Building

In an email response to a Knoxville citizen, Mayor Madeline Rogero said, “As a Christian, I thank God for other Christians like you who are passionate about their faith and who are prepared to defend that faith against any threat. I thank God also for the framers of our Constitution who realized that it was very important to create a form of government in which all people of every faith or of no faith are free to fully and freely exercise their beliefs without interference from their government but who also were wise enough to recognize that it is no business of government to establish, endorse or promote any particular faith or system of beliefs. Those beliefs which are voluntarily and sincerely held without government coercion are the most enduring forms of faith and I am grateful to God every day for allowing me to live in a free country that recognizes and permits that form of freedom…..It was the defense of these principles , rather than the fear of threats of litigation, which led the City to create the Hall of Inspiration at the Safety Building.”

“While this is a somewhat complex issue which can lead to different interpretations and conclusions subject to endless debate, I think that your email makes a couple of incorrect assumptions. The first assumption is that the City acted because it feared that it would be sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and would have to spend money to defend that suit, The action the City took was not based on the fear of litigation. It was based on an analysis of the facts presented combined with a thorough review of constitutional law as determined by the courts, from which we concluded that the manner in which the plaque was displayed at the Safety Building was a violation of the establishment clause of the constitution. The fact that a single verse from the Christian Bible with a reference to that source prominently displayed in a public building to the exclusion of inspirational statements from any other source of faith constituted an impermissible endorsement of Christianity by the municipal government. Those of us who are public officials have all taken oaths to preserve, protect and defend the constitution even when it would be more politically convenient not to do so. As an attorney, you doubtlessly are aware that we are required to rely upon the interpretation of the Constitution provided to use by the Supreme Court and the various inferior courts unless and until that interpretation is changed through through the appropriate  legal process. Applying those principals to the case and the fact the our practice violated the constitution, no that we were afraid of being sued, that prompted the City’s action in this case.

An email from the President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation that sparked the debate was included in the released documents.

“Dear Chief Rausch,

I know you are a very busy man, and I have heard only wonderful things about your leadership of the police department since you took the Chief’s position. I especially liked seeing the video of you dancing with the high school dance team and leading your fellow officers in the performance at Austin East High School a few weeks ago. That goes such a long way to reaching out to the youth and community members in Knoxville. Thank you for your leadership.

I wanted to follow-up on my mailed letter I sent about a month ago to see if you had a chance  to address the concern I had in the letter. I am hoping to report to the members of the Freedom from Religion Foundation – East Tennessee Chapter at the next meeting that this issue was resolved.

As a reminder, my letter to you was a sign hanging in the basement of the police department which promoted a religion (Christianity). Am I am sure you know, promoting any religion at all is something that should not be promoted by tax-payer dollars. As a tax-payer, I would like to know that if I were brought in for questioning I would feel safe in practicing a different religion or no religion at all. Having a religious sign posted would make me feel like I would not be treated fairly. Even if I treated fairly, it is not OK to make some people with a different religion or no religion feel like they are not welcome at a tax-funded building.

If you have already taken care of this, will you please let me know so I can pass that information on to our local chapter?

Thank you for your help, and again, thank you so much for your service to this community.”

Chief David Rausch sent a note to the Department defending the mayor and explaining why the decision was made.

“Let me make something abundantly clear, the Mayor has not ordered the sign to be removed. This is a legal decision based on current case law that has been researched by our law department. As I have stated to all on many occasions our Mayor supports the work you do every day and understands the importance of faith in what we do. I appreciate the passion I have witnessed with this news. Please use it in a positive manner and not to blame those who have no role in this. Thank you, as always, for your understanding and support.”

Dozens of citizens sent letters to the mayors office expressing their opinion on the issue. Several of them are posted below along with the emails from officials mentioned above. The names of citizens have been redacted.

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