‘Our religious freedom is not for sale’

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The Bossier Sheriff’s Young Marines present the colors while Wendie Hendrix (right) sings the National Anthem and (pictured from left) State Rep. Jeff Thompson, U.S. Congressman John Fleming, Sheriff Julian Whittington, and Gov. Bobby Jindal look on during the July 4th “In God We Trust” rally held at the Bossier Sheriffs Substation on Viking Drive in Bossier City Thursday.

‘In God We Trust’ rally stirs community support for Sheriff’s refusal to remove references to God in youth programs

The spirit of Independence Day was alive Thursday with a rally supporting the perceived assault of religious freedom from the federal government by way of the Bossier Sheriff’s youth programs.

The Bossier Sheriff”s Office 4th of July “In God We Trust” rally was held at the Viking Drive Substation in Bossier City to show support for Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington’s stance against the federal government denying the Sheriff’s Office federal grant funding. Their Young Marines and Youth Diversion programs have had $30,000 pulled because of the mention of God and voluntary prayer in the programs.

“This is right here in your backyard that the federal government can come in and tell us what we can and can’t say,” said an incredulous Whittington.

The program featured a presentation with speeches by Whittington, Gov. Bobby Jindal, District 4 U.S. Representative John Fleming, State Representative Jeff Thompson and country music legend Lee Greenwood.

“We’ve got a message for our government: In the great parish of Bossier in the great state of Louisiana, our religious freedom is not for sale,” said Jindal. “If we can’t get the funding, if we have to pass around a plate, I will make the first contribution out of my own pocket.”

Whittington received notice that funding would be restored only if he signed a letter “pledging that no prayer or mention of God would be allowed” in the programs. Sheriff Whittington has made it clear that he will not remove God nor voluntary prayer from either program.

Whittington said in the communication with the Department of Justice (DOJ), it was mentioned that voluntary prayer and the mention of God could be offensive to someone.

“We put people in jail for a living, we offend people every day. It’s time we start offending some people,” he said to rapturous applause.

“We had a phone call that DOJ was going to fly to Baton Rouge and they wanted me to fly down and we were going to go out to dinner. I said, ‘No, we’re not. This is real simple: Yes we can continue our program like we’re doing, or we can’t. We don’t need to compromise, to go to dinner or talk about it.’ I haven’t heard from them since.”

For the past several years, the Young Marines program has been partially funded by the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) provided by the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE).

Earlier this week, the Press-Tribune received an email from DOJ in relation to the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). The statement read:

“The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) never defunded the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Youth Diversion Program or Young Marines Program and does not make funding determinations for these subgrantees. The Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE), the state administering agency, is responsible for ensuring its subgrantees are in compliance with grant requirements, and for determining whether the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office receives funding. OJP is coordinating with its grantee, the LCLE, to ensure all OJP funding complies with grant requirements and federal civil rights laws and regulations.”

Jindal underscored “what is at stake” by noting, “This isn’t just a grant, this isn’t the Department of Justice picking on one sheriff — this is Washington D.C. assaulting our rights and our freedoms.”

Jindal went on to pledge his support for Whittington’s stance, saying, “Of all the places we could be on July 4, when I had to pick where I wanted to spend our country’s birthday, I knew I had to be in Bossier and stand with your Sheriff.”

Jindal cited the language of a past legal case trying to remove prayer from school board meetings to underscore his notion of religious decay in the country.

“The language said, ‘We are worried our children may be accidentally exposed to prayer.’ They make it sound like it’s contagious, like it’s smallpox or west nile virus,” said Jindal. “I’ve got three young kids at home and I worry about them being exposed to a lot of things in today’s culture, but I have never once stayed up at night and say, ‘I’m worried our kids may be getting too much prayer.’”

Fleming said this issue is only one symptom of a “major disease” in Washington since 2009.

“We have a broad front of the state pushing the church out of the public square,” said Fleming.

He also pointed out the notion of the separation of church and state came from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Church in 1801 over the congregation’s concerns of government intrusion into the church.

“He said we should build a wall between church and state, not to protect the government from religion, but to protect the church from the state,” said Fleming.

Thompson, R-Bossier City, said that he was taught to love God and country, in that order.

“When my dad was in Vietnam (War), we prayed every night for his safe return — not to someone in Washington, but to our creator. When I’ve been on my knees praying for a family member, it hasn’t been to some undersecretary in Washington D.C., it’s been to our creator.”

Greenwood, who was due to perform at Margaritaville Resort-Casino that night, stopped by to discuss the importance of supporting religious freedom.

“We’re a mix of people and we all believe in the same thing. We were all Christians when we came to this nation and we still are,” said Greenwood. “We may be a silent majority, but it’s time to speak out.”

State Senator Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, spoke shortly before the program, noting he has already asked the area’s Washington delegation to seek a resolution to the removal of funding.

“We passed a unanimous resolution in Baton Rouge, Senate Resolution 192, that tells our Washington delegation to correct this problem,” said Peacock before prompting the audience to act, “When you leave here, you need to start calling the Congressional delegation and delegations from other states to tell them to support our delegation in fixing this.”

Despite several standing ovations for the speakers, the most thunderous applause was reserved for the current class of Young Marines when they stated their pledge before the crowd of more than 2,000.

“From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. Semper Fidelis.”

Approximately 1,000 recruits have graduated from the Young Marines program over the past decade and has a graduation success rate of more than 80 percent.

The BSO is still forging ahead with the programs, paying for them out of the department. As of the start of this week, the sheriff’s office had received approximately $2,500 in donations from across the country to support the programs.

To donate, please contact the Bossier Sheriff’s Office at 318-965-3411 or write to Bossier Sheriff’s Office, ATTN: Young Marines/Youth Diversion, P.O. Box 850, Benton, LA 71006.