Police chief joins march organized by Selma civil rights advocate and minister; under fire for saying community should pray more, go to church

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A small group of citizens, both black and white, show solidarity with Bridgeport police in an apparently impromptu gathering. | Bridgeport Police Department/Facebook

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (Christian Examiner) – A local police chief who suggested his city (and America) has become increasingly violent because it has abandoned God is being lampooned by the liberal watchdog Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Bridgeport, Conn., Police Chief Armando Perez, who is Catholic, told a group of 50 people who had gathered for a show of solidarity with police Saturday, Sept. 24, that "we need God in our lives."

"The problems that we're having is because people have abandoned church, people have abandoned God, and that cannot happen," Perez said. He also suggested people could pray for the community.

According to CT Post, the local paper, the marchers at the event chanted civil rights slogans common in the Black Lives Matter movement, such as "no justice, no peace." But they also chanted religious slogans, such as "one faith, one city, one baptism," it said.

Another website, an LGBT activist site, claimed the group was chanting "a modified version of the Trump slogan 'one people, under one god, saluting one flag' chant," which it said was based on a Nazi slogan.

Christian Examiner cannot independently confirm reports of the crowd chanting the slogan, which is similar to the "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" in Ephesians 4:5. No video of the encounter has been made available by any of the participants of the gathering.

"Let's bring God back in our lives, back in our church – bring our kids – in our city, in our schools – absolutely," Perez was quoting as saying, without advocating devotion to a specific religion.

Perez's comments sent Americans United over the edge. The group published a column suggesting Perez wanted to force the citizens of Bridgeport into church pews and into prayer.

AU also said people could "read into" the comment that the chief was advocating only for adherence to the Christian religion.

"There goes that thought," AU's Rokia Hassanein wrote. "So, essentially, we don't need merely any God in our lives to get rid of crimes in our community; we just need the god some Christians subscribe to. So much for diversity!"

"Perez also thinks that people 'cannot' continue to freely think how they want. If you want to stay devout to Christianity and any other religion, so be it as long as you're not harming others. If you don't want to? That's also OK. Public officials can't force religious collectivity, and this nation does not have an official religion," Hassanein also wrote.

She then suggested Perez wasn't doing his job effectively, so he needed to "pray, pray, pray the crime away."

"As for reducing crime in the city, I have a suggestion: Maybe the police chief should spend less time worrying about when, where and how people pray and more time on the street tracking down criminals," Hassanein wrote.

AU then warned of the nefarious nature of what Perez had done, claiming religion and law enforcement do not mix.

The small gathering of people showing solidarity with the police was organized by Mary McBride-Lee, a city councilwoman who is also a minister and a civil rights advocate. Rev. McBride-Lee is from Selma, Ala., and took part in the Civil Rights Movement's march there in1965.