Americans United's letter claimed that "the [these] 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."
Americans United requested that the Sheriff's Office stop funding such religious groups and respond to their letter within 30 days. The Sheriff's Office response: we are not going to respond and if you want us to follow the Florida Constitution, sue us.
On August 31, 2015, Deputy Chief Eric Haines and I discussed Americans United's letter and the possible response of Sheriff Morgan. It was a friendly conversation. The Deputy Chief has a firm handshake and equally firm views. He's loyal to the Sheriff. It was an interesting conversation.
|Deputy Chief Haines and I discussing local politics, August 31, 2015. Thanks to Anthony Brice for the photograph.|
To be fair to the Deputy Chief, neither he nor Sheriff Morgan stated that their response to the Americans United letter was "go pound sand." But, that was the meaning of what the Deputy Chief told me.
The Deputy Chief told me that the Sheriff was not going to respond to the letter. He stated, and I have not verified, that the Sheriff's use of Law Enforcement Trust Fund monies to fund Christian group's whose primary purpose is proselytizing and recruiting people for Christ was approved by a legal opinion from the Florida Sheriff's Association. Second, he stated that because the Trust Fund monies are from contraband seizures they are not "revenue" as stated in the Florida Constitution and they are not "taxpayer funds."
My response was simple. I am not a constitutional lawyer and we will just see how the lawyers thrash this out.
The Deputy Chief's response was go ahead and sue us. This is a win-win situation for the Sheriff.
Deputy Chief Haines explained that if the Sheriff were sued, it would make him appear that he was being hounded or persecuted by godless heathens--especially in an area that is conservative both politically and religiously. If the Sheriff lost, no big deal, he wins with his base. If he wins, he wins big. He told me to look at the Florida Sheriff that put "In God We Trust" on his patrol cars. He's more popular after having national media attention on the constitutional violation than he was before.
Deputy Chief Haines then stated that my suggestion at the end of the article that the Escambia County Board of Commissioners take a "closer look" to "determine what penalties, if any, are linked to such unconstitutional and unethical behavior by Sheriff Morgan" was never going to happen. He explained that this was a conservative area and the Board was not going vote to look at what Sheriff Morgan was doing that could possibly have violated the Florida Constitution; nor were they going to vote to stop funding these openly proselytizing religious groups.
In essence, the response of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office to an alleged violation of the Florida Constitution is to "go pound sand."