Covington County sheriff defends religious posts on Facebook page

A national organization has accused him of “unconstitutional religious promotion”

Covington County sheriff defends religious social media posts

COVINGTON COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Covington County sheriff is responding to a letter that accuses him of unconstitutional religious promotion on the “Covington County Sheriffs Department” Facebook page.

The letter, sent to Sheriff Blake Turman by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said a concerned resident in the county contacted the national non-profit to report the sheriff’s department’s official page regularly promotes Christianity. The letter mentions three posts specifically: one on April 7 that asked for prayers for county jail inmates to open up to “God,” one on April 21 wishing everyone a Happy Easter and stating “He is risen indeed!” and one on May 31 that quoted a verse from the Book of Micah in the Bible.

Citing the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, FFRF said government entities cannot endorse religion. The Establishment Clause states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

“The Covington County Sheriff’s Department serves a diverse population that consists of not only Christians, but also minority religious and nonreligious citizens,” the letter states. “We hope you will agree that the department must be even-handed and avoid any appearance of bias toward some citizens, or hostility toward others.”

Turman, however, said the Facebook page is not the official department page, but his own personal blog.

“If you notice, on the page I do not have a government email attached and I explain clearly that this is a personal blog,” he said in a responding Facebook post. “This is not an official social media sight (sic) and only certain people are allowed to put posts on this sight (sic).”

The About section of the page states, “Covington County Alabama Sheriff Blake Turman’s personal page used to inform the public of important information, announcements, concerns, thoughts, and promote community unity through positive law enforcement and community service.”

Turman said in his response that he has never recruited or invited anyone to join or go to a church or become a Christian. He also said inmates in the jail are not forced to attend religious services. Turman, too, brought up the Establishment Clause, saying it has nothing to do with the expression of religion by public officials.

“Separation of Church and State was never even penned in the Constitution, only that the Government would not have an official religion,” he said. “We don't. But as a free man I do have a religion, a faith in God that keeps me morally straight and love others, even non-believers of my religion.”

WSFA 12 News also spoke with Turman Tuesday, and his response included no apologies.

"My response is that someone that lives a thousand miles away from me has complained and I just don't put a whole lot of stock in it and we have a lot of people in this county that agree with my views and know that I am not pushing it on them,” he said. “It's a waste of my time to have to deal with them."

FFRF is an organization that states its purpose is to protect the separation of church and state and to educate the public on matters of nontheism. The organization claims 31,000 members across the country, including many in Alabama.

Turman said he has not received a response from FFRF after his post. He also said he’s gotten no complaints about his posts from the county commission or the county attorney.

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