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So what’s the next step?

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Sheriff Julian Whittington speaks during his "In God We Trust" Rally held July 4th.

It’s been a week since Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington’s eminently successful “In God We Trust” rally. So what’s next? I visited the Sheriff’s Public Information Officer, Lt. Bill Davis, to ask that question.

Davis said that as of now, our Louisiana Congressional delegation is taking the issue up at the federal level in an effort to determine if a resolution beyond the current “draw” is possible.

And he clarified the point that funding for the Sheriff’s youth programs was not denied – instead, the Sheriff withdrew his grant application because of a requirement for him to sign a letter agreeing that prayer would not be part of a new youth program.

A little history from Whittington’s May 23, 2013 letter to Governor Bobby Jindal helps clarify the issue.

In 2012, at the recommendation of some Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement folks, the Bossier Sheriff’s office set out to create a new and separate program for court-ordered juveniles. And the Sheriff’s office submitted a Juvenile Accountability Block Grant application for the “Bossier Youth Diversion Program.”

But apparently, at the direction of a member of the US Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights, prayer would not be a part of the diversion program. The response from the Sheriff’s Office was that “… the time that was allowed for prayer was optional for all the kids. It was led by any child that wanted to volunteer and if there wasn’t a volunteer, it became a moment of silence.”

And in response to that, the DOJ Office of Civil Rights folks required a letter signed by the Sheriff stating there would be “no prayer activities conducted during the Diversion program.”

Whittington refused.

But also apparently because of this stance, the Bossier Sheriff’s Office also has been denied funding for a one-time Juvenile Justice Delinquency Program grant. And apparently that has something to do with the Office of Civil Rights opinion on something described as “inherently religious activities.”

Perhaps our Congressional delegation can sort out that ridiculous “finding.”

“This was an incredible infringement on our basic First Amendment rights,” Davis said. “If it happens here in Bossier Parish – where else? Other groups and organizations may not have the resources the Sheriff has – they may have to compromise. That’s wrong.”

In the meantime, Davis said support for Whittington’s stand from the local community and beyond has been overwhelming. And as it concerns the donations received by the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office, Davis said, “… as a taxpayer funded entity, we do not solicit funds – but we are so grateful for the outpouring of support on this issue …”

Davis said that a special account has been established for these donations – which are still coming in – and that the Sheriff’s office is waiting for a total to determine how to apply the funds.

And Davis was very clear about the Sheriff’s plans to keep the public informed about new developments in this issue: “When we all go home from the rally, the Sheriff still has 120,000 Bossier Parish residents to answer to,” said Davis.

We look forward to those periodic updates.

 

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at m_carlso@bellsouth.nette