A Guilford County, N.C., deputy sheriff has been barred from displaying a sign reading “Jesus is our savior” in the back of his patrol car.
The display came to light in November after a local resident, M. Reza Salami, was pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint and ticketed for driving with open liquor containers in his car. Salami denied being intoxicated, and he passed a blood alcohol test. (He said he was taking wine bottles to a recycling center.)
While being ticketed, he spotted the religious sign in the deputy’s car. He alerted Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
On Jan. 10, Americans United attorneys wrote to Sheriff BJ Barnes to advise him that the sign was a violation of church-state separation.
“[G]overnment employees may not, in the performance of their duties, proselytize or communicate religious messages to members of the public verbally or by displaying religious symbols,” wrote the AU attorneys.
Six days later, Barnes replied, writing, “Please be assured that it is our intention to fully comply with the laws with respect to religious expression and that the matter about which you have received a complaint has been addressed and that the message found offensive has been removed.”
Media coverage of the incident stirred up controversy. Salami, an Iranian immigrant who teaches at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, was bitterly attacked on a local talk radio program and had to call in to defend himself. (See “Constitutional Caveat,” February Church & State.)
Salami, a Christian, said he believes strongly that church and state should be separate. He took action, he said, “because I believe from my heart in the Constitution of the United States.”
The letter to Barnes was written by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser and Madison Fellow Nancy Leong.