Sheriff faces atheists lawsuit for preaching in uniform

by Vanessa Rodriguez, |
As a guest preacher at First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Sheriff Grady Judd delivered a sermon "Wouldn't the World Be Better If Everyone Behaved Like a Christian" and shared numerous testimonies of the impact of faith-based dorms within Polk County jails. | First Baptist Church At The Mall in Lakeland

LAKELAND, Fla. (Christian Examiner) -- A well-known sheriff in central Florida faces the threat of a law suit from the atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation because he delivered a sermon dressed in full uniform earlier this year.

By the church's invitation, Sheriff Grady Judd took the pulpit at First Baptist Church At The Mall in Lakeland April 19. He gave a message based on Romans 12, "Wouldn't the world be better if everyone behaved like a Christian?"

In addition to claims that media's negative messaging creates an unbalanced picture of good and bad in the world, the sheriff laid out a biblical foundation for law enforcement as a ministry.

Supporting his claims with scripture, Judd said, "This profession is ordained by God," and then read from Romans 13:4, "For he is God's minister to you for Good, but if you do evil be afraid ... for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute the wrath on him who practices evil."

Judd also read from Hebrews 13 and said the verses charge Christians to "do good." Similarly officers are charged with doing good he said, "Police officers are placed on earth to do right to protect life and property and to comfort those in the worst times of their life."

According to the Wisconsin-based FFRF, by preaching in uniform the sheriff gave the "unfortunate impression" that Polk County supports Judd's personal religion and beliefs.

"Promoting your personal religion using your Polk County title and uniform gives the unfortunate impression that the county supports and endorses the First Baptist Church on the Mall and its religious teachings," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote in a letter to Judd dated June 15.

The letter also claimed Judd's sermon was "excluding" of other religions and made non-believers "feel like outsiders in their own community."

Judd disagreed. He told WKMG 6 that the speaking engagement was like many others he has participated in over the years.

"I was invited to this church just like I am to many churches [and] just as I am to many secular events to speak," he said noting his words were intended to be "clear and uplifting"

Still, the FFRF has asked the sheriff to refrain from giving sermons dressed in his sheriff's uniform.

"You cannot preach in church as Sheriff Judd, you must do so as Mr. Judd, private citizen," a written statement from the group said.

Judd told ABC Action News that regardless of the FFRF's threat to file a law suit against him he intended to continue making public speeches wearing his sheriff's uniform.

"When people call the sheriff's office and ask me to come speak, I'm going to come speak and I'm going to wear my uniform," Judd said. "I guarantee it."