A Tennessee police department announced this week that officials will remove a Bible plaque that has been on display for “generations” after atheist activists complained that its presence constitutes a violation of the First Amendment.
The plaque, which has hung inside the Knoxville Police Department, near an employee deli — a section of the building that is in a non-public area — will be taken down. But it won’t be removed from the premises entirely. In fact, it will be shifted to a new “Hall of Inspiration” inside the department’s Safety Building, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said.
Rausch said that the plaque, which includes text from Romans 8:31 and reads, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us then who can be against us?” will be moved to the new location along with other proverbs, religious verses and inspirational quotes, The Washington Post reported.
It’s a move that was announced after the East Tennessee branch of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, complained about the plaque back in February, demanding that the verse be removed so that people who aren’t Christians “may feel equally treated.”
City Law Director Charles Swanson said the city could have fought the atheist group in court, but neither he nor Mayor Madeline Rogero wanted to spend taxpayer dollars to do so. The two explained their decision during a press conference on Wednesday.
“We could argue in favor it keeping it, what’s the real point? I don’t think it was in a place where the public could see it,” Swanson said. “But it certainly didn’t seem like it was worth financing a fight.”
Rogero, who described herself as a person of faith, said the plaque did cross a First Amendment line and needed to be removed.
“As a Christian, I’m 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,” she said during the presser.
The plaque will be taken down from its current location during a special ceremony on Friday morning.
“I have walked through those doors for a lot of years and that sign has been there giving me strength, encouragement and comfort to do this job,” Deputy Chief Cindy Gass wrote in an email to employees, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel.
Chief Rausch reportedly defended the mayor’s decision in an email to staff, but affirmed his own Christian faith, the outlet reported.
“[I] will be praying for those who brought about this ‘issue,’” he wrote. “I pray that their souls will be softened by the love of God, and they understand that they can have us remove words but they cannot remove our faith and what is in our hearts.”