On August 28, 2015, Mr. Alex J. Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director, and Mr. Ian Smith, staff attorney, for Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United), sent a letter to Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan reporting a complaint first raised by CJ's Street Report regarding Sheriff Morgan using "the Law Enforcement Trust Fund to fund religious activities and proselytization," according to the group's letter.
The lawyers for Americans United wrote to Sheriff Morgan,
"Because the grant of taxpayer dollars to proselytizing religious
organizations violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Florida
Constitution, we ask that you refrain from using Law Enforcement Trust
Fund monies to fund such activities and organizations in the future."
Specifically, Americans United cited the instances of Sheriff Morgan using the Law Enforcement Trust Fund monies to provide $7,000 to Youth-Reach Gulf Coast, $5,000 to the Men's Barn Meeting, and $4,500 to Teen Challenge, according to CJ's Street Report articles.
Americans United cited several U.S. Supreme Court decisions prohibiting providing public money for religious activity or that support religious programming, even if in the latter case the items paid for are secular.
Americans United stated that "the grants also violate Article I, [section] 3 of the Florida Constitution, which states that "'[n]o revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.' This provision renders the Florida Constitution even more restrictive of public aid to religion than the U.S. Constitution."
Furthermore, Americans United pointed out, "State agencies can violate the Florida Constitution even when the benefits they provide to a sectarian institution are considered indirect....Grants of taxpayer dollars to religious groups that proselytize are in direct violation of the plain language of the Florida Constitution."
Americans United requested a response from Sheriff Morgan within 30 days.
Perhaps the Escambia County Board of Commissioners should take a closer look at Sheriff Morgan's use of Law Enforcement Trust Fund monies to fund religious groups and activities to determine what penalties, if any, are linked to such unconstitutional and unethical behavior by Sheriff Morgan.