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“If God be for us, then who can be against us?”
Generations of Knoxville Police Department officers have passed by a plaque with that bit of scripture as they headed out to fight crime. Now, the sign is being taken down after an atheist organization based in Madison, Wis., demanded it be removed, the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee has learned.
“I have walked through those doors for a lot of years and that sign has been there giving me strength, encouragement and comfort to do this job,” KPD Deputy Chief Cindy Gass wrote in an email to KPD employees announcing an official ceremony for the removal of the plaque set for 9:30 Friday morning.
City Law Director Charles Swanson said Tuesday that the East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint about the plaque, which quotes Romans 8:31 and is located on a wall near an employee deli. It is not in the public areas of the Safety Building, where KPD is headquartered on Howard Baker Jr. Boulevard.
At a Wednesday news conference, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said the plaque would be moved to a new Hall of Inspiration that the department will create inside the Safety Building.
Swanson said the city could have defended the plaque in court against the group’s claim it violates principles of separation of church and state. But he said he agreed with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s position not to spend taxpayer money to fund that defense.
“We could argue in favor it keeping it, what’s the real point?” Swanson said. “I don’t think it was in a place where the public could see it. But it certainly didn’t seem like it was worth financing a fight.”