A long-time biblical passage hanging at Knoxville Police headquarters will be removed and displayed in a new manner inside the Safety Building.
The placard quotes Romans 8:31.
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us then who can be against us,” it reads.
The East Tennessee chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a letter of complaint with KPD in February.
“Please see that the verse is removed so that all who enter your police station may feel equally treated,” the letter reads.
The group advocates for the separation of church and state, according to chapter president Aleta Ledenbetter.
“We’re not trying to take religion away from anyone, we’re just trying to make sure there’s a level playing field,” she said
Ledenbetter said she takes issue with KPD promoting Christianity over other religions.
“The police department is a government body, and a government body should not show any preference to any religion,” Ledenbetter said.
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and Mayor Madeline Rogero said the city will be removing the placard and putting it in a different part of the building alongside other inspiration quotes, religious verses and proverbs regardless of faith or non-faith.
The mayor emphasized the decision would not affect individual expressions of faith within the department or city offices.
City leaders said the issue at hand was a legal one, as the government and publicly funded organizations are restricted from promoting or favoring one particular religion under the U.S. Constituion and its Establishment Clause.
"[The placard] is something I've seen for almost 25 years during my career at KPD," Rausch said. "It was a tough emotional decision, but the right decision. This is a constitutional issue. Law enforcement are the number one upholders of the constitution, it's out primary mission."
Chief Rausch said he hopes the decision to place the Bible passage in a "Hall of Inspiration" alongside other religious passages and quotes chosen by KPD staff will put faith back into those who are concerned with the removal.
The Hall of Inspiration will be unveiled Friday at 9:30 a.m. at the KPD Safety Building, and will include the quote from Romans 8:31.
Before it was announced the placard would be moved, Mark Taylor with the Fraternal Order of the Police said he received emails Tuesday saying the sign would be removed completely. Taylor said the sign is not in a public area.
He had never heard complaints from officers over the verse’s presence, but has heard outcry over its removal.
“It’s caused a bit of concern, and quite a few people were upset about it,” Taylor said.
“I don’t take it as promoting religion, or promoting one religion,” he added. “To them I think it’s just like any other verse or any other quote – it’s just comfort. It reminds you the work you’re going out to do is serious work. I guess to me, it’s just a little bit of inspiration, comfort and courage to do that hard things that police officers face every day.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Madeline Rogero said she did not order the sign be removed, saying only that the law department made the initial determination which was sent to KPD.
City law director Charles Swanson spoke at the press conference Wednesday, emphasizing KPD's officers have the freedom to exercise their religious faith, but that the department as an institution cannot promote or elevate one single religion over others.
Mayor Rogero said if the city had a "leg to stand on" in the fight to keep the placard up in its current location, she would have spent the money.
The mayor also mentioned how the city pushed back after facing similar criticism and legal threats from the FFRF over the Lonsdale recreation and community center project being funded and run by a Christian organization. The city gave the Emerald Youth Foundation the land for the project, saying the city's law office took the steps to ensure the city was not violating the Establishment Clause in doing so.
“What we don't do is invest in something that is directly church-related, but we can invest in programs that faith-based groups provide to help kids without limitations to faith, so there is a line that's been drawn by the courts, and our law department understands that," the mayor said.
The FFRF claimed the Emerald Youth Foundation's statements about mixing religion with athletics breaks the separation of church and state called for in the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions, saying the city shouldn't donate land, contribute financially or endorse the project.