Freedom From Patches?

Lenoir City police 'religion' patch draws fire

By Hugh G.
The Lenoir City Police Department has come under fire from an organization that claims the display of the word "religion" on officers' uniform shirts is unconstitutional.

Police Chief Don White confirmed the city first received a letter about two months ago from the Freedom From Religion Foundation stating that the word religion should be removed from the uniforms.

The shoulder patch worn by officers is a triangle-shaped emblem with the words education, religion and industry positioned at each side of the triangle. The emblem is only displayed on the officer's shirts and jackets.

About a week ago the city received a second letter from the organization, this time demanding that the word religion be removed from the patches and threatening legal action.

"We are trying to figure how to respond," White said. "We're waiting to hear from our attorney."

If the city has to make a change in the patch design, all of the uniforms will have to be changed, White said. The department requires as many as 500 uniforms and jackets for its force. The patch would have to be redesigned, manufactured and sewn to each uniform.

"I hope we don't have to do that. It could be very costly," he said.

Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens, White said.

The Madison, Wisc., based FFRF describes itself as a nonprofit educational organization. The group recently became involved in a controversy regarding prayer in Lenoir City schools.

In addition to sending a letter to the school system demanding a stop to prayer during school activities, the group gave a $1000 student activist award to LCHS senior Krystal Myers for publication of an essay on the rights of atheists.

Stephanie Schmitt, FFRF staff attorney, said the group recently became aware of the use of the word religion on the patches.

"We have concerns that this is an issue with the Establishment Clause because it indicates that the government is endorsing or promoting religion," Schmitt said.

Residents in Loudon County concerned about the recent activity related to prayer in schools have organized a "pro-prayer" rally at the Loudon County Courthouse for 7 p.m. Thursday. Organizer James Raucci said many residents, especially parents of school aged children, say they are worried that the Federal government is stripping away the rights of its citizens.