A religious freedom group says Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd broke the law when he gave a sermon at a local church.
The sermon was titled, “Wouldn’t the world be better if everyone behaved like a Christian?”
It’s a question Sheriff Judd asked hundreds of people from the pulpit of First Baptist Church at the mall in Lakeland. It’s a question he’s now defending two months after the sermon he delivered in April.
“I was invited to this church, as I am to many churches and secular events, and you know what, the message was clear,” Judd said. “The message was uplifting. The message talked about and bragged on how wonderful our community was.”
That may be the message the sheriff says he put out there, but it’s not the message the Freedom from Religion Foundation got when they heard it.
The group sent a letter to the sheriff accusing him of excluding other religions and making non-believers feel like outsiders in their own community. And they said the sheriff did it all while wearing his uniform.
The foundation’s attorney, Andrew Seidel, who wrote the letter, said the sheriff is breaking the law by failing to separate church and state.
“This isn’t really a gray area,” he said. "If he wants to promote his personal religious beliefs, he’s absolutely free to do that. He’s just not allowed to do it in his capacity as sheriff.”
Basically the group says the sheriff can say whatever he wants but as Grady Judd, not the sheriff and definitely not while in his uniform.
“What’s really beautiful about this job is you’re the sheriff 24-hours a day, seven days a week," Judd said. "Whether I’m in this uniform, or a coat and tie, or in my underwear. I’m still the sheriff, everybody knows I’m the sheriff.”
This national organization says they first heard about Sheriff Grady Judd’s speech at the church after receiving about a handful of complaints from people who live in Polk County.
The sheriff said he’s not concerned about critics and insists he’s exercising his first amendment right, refusing to be censored.
When asked what he plans to do in the future, even with the threat that the Freedom of Religion Foundation could potentially sue him.
“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, I’m gonna wear my uniform," Judd said. "You can guarantee it.”
The Freedom of Religion Foundation group says they wanted this to serve as a warning to the sheriff, but if he continues to speak about religion while wearing his uniform they will consider a lawsuit.