Mayor Announces Bible Verse to be Moved to Hall of Inspiration at KPD Headquarters

Communications Director

Kristin Farley
[email protected]
(865) 215-2589

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Mayor Announces Bible Verse to be Moved to Hall of Inspiration at KPD Headquarters

Posted: 07/26/2017
Listen to MP3 of the Press Conference and Question and Answer Session
In a press conference today, Mayor Madeline Rogero and Police Chief David Rausch announced the creation of a new “Hall of Inspiration” at KPD’s headquarters in the Safety Building. The room will house a Bible verse that has long stood over an employee entrance to the building, along with other inspirational writings from a variety of faiths and philosophers. It will be an area for employee repose and reflection.

The announcement was in response to constitutional questions raised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the display of the verse from Romans 8:31, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us then who can be against us?” It has been displayed at an employee entrance since the early 1970s.

Below are Mayor Rogero’s prepared remarks for the press conference:

Good morning. Thank you for being here.

As you all know, there have been many questions raised in the community and among City staff about an announcement that went out yesterday from Chief Rausch to Knoxville Police Department employees regarding a Bible verse that is displayed at a staff entrance to the Safety Building.

First, some context: This Bible verse has been displayed at that entrance for nearly 50 years. It is not displayed in an area where members of the public would typically go.

We are not aware of any complaints or issues raised in recent history by KPD staff or members of the public. It has become part of KPD tradition, providing strength and comfort to our officers as they perform their daily – and often dangerous -- duties. 

A few months ago, we received a letter from the East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, that promotes the separation of church and state. I don’t know what brought the display of this verse to their attention, but they objected to it on constitutional grounds.
After reviewing the complaint and case law surrounding similar issues across the country, our Law Department determined that this display of the Bible verse does cross a clearly established line regarding government promotion of religion. Charles Swanson, our Law Director, will talk more about the legal issues in a moment.

After that determination was made, Charles informed me and Chief Rausch earlier this week, and Chief Rausch informed his staff. 

I know that people both inside and outside City government are upset with this ending of a tradition. As a person of faith, I understand and respect the passion that people feel for this issue. 

KPD Press Conference on Bible Verse RemovalAs a Christian, I am thankful for fellow Christians who feel their faith so strongly that they want to share it with the world, and I respect people of other faiths who feel the same. I know Chief Rausch and Mr. Swanson feel the same way.

But we do not govern only according to the dictates of our faith. We govern first and foremost under the authority of the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the State of Tennessee. Both of those documents set very clear limits on the role of government in promoting any specific religion.

There is a good reason for this. As our founders recognized when they wrote the Constitution, the best protection for religious liberty is to restrict the government’s role in promoting or endorsing any particular faith.

Those of us who serve the people of Knoxville serve all the people of Knoxville – people of many faiths and many backgrounds.

As Christians, we may not always realize that our co-workers or our constituents do not all see the world the same way we do. We may not understand that a Bible verse that gives us strength and comfort may send an entirely different message to someone else: That you are not welcome here, that this governmental body does not represent you.

These issues are complicated and difficult. This is not an issue we sought out. But as Mayor, like all elected officials and like all of our law enforcement officers, I am obliged to uphold the Constitution. When our Law Department says that we have a clear constitutional problem to address, I am obliged to address it.

I would also like to note that this is one of two issues that have been raised to us by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in recent months. They have also objected to our plans to work with the Emerald Youth Foundation on a new youth recreation complex in Lonsdale.

In that case, we reviewed their complaint and determined that we can proceed with that partnership in a way that does not raise any constitutional issues. We work closely with both faith-based and non-faith-based organizations throughout our community.

After reviewing this entire situation and the determination of the Law Department, Chief Rausch and his staff have come up with a solution that we believe will respect the strong feelings on all sides of this issue and still allow the display of this verse and other inspirational writing, in a different context. 

Chief Rausch has suggested creating a “Hall of Inspiration” at the Safety Building, where employees will be welcome to submit and display quotes and proverbs from many traditions. This will encourage the sharing of heartfelt expressions of belief in a way that reflects our diverse history and community. He will talk more about that in a minute.

But before I ask the chief to say a few words, I want to speak directly to our KPD officers and staff. As Mayor, I am so grateful for your service and the sacrifice that goes with it. You are out there every day, keeping all of us safe, putting yourselves on the line for the people of Knoxville. 

I know the announcement from Chief Rausch yesterday raised troubling questions for many of you, and I want to assure you that this has nothing to do with restricting anybody’s individual expression of faith.

We are all fortunate to have so many officers and staff who draw daily strength from the foundation of their faith. Thank you all so much for your service.