Freedom from religion group has ‘safety concerns’ filing suit against Polk Sheriff

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Polk County, FL (WFLA) – The group that threatened to sue the Polk County Sheriff for wearing his uniform at the church pulpit is now voicing safety concerns. They think the sheriff’s position makes a lawsuit “doubly dangerous” for their members and some feel intimidated.

The attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Andrew Seidel, cited other suits that ended with members having their houses fire bombed or pets killed. He believes going against the Sheriff could have some serious consequences.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd puts on the preacher hat about a dozen or more times a year, but he doesn’t change to his Sunday suit. “I will be at a church speaking tonight, in my uniform,” Judd said Thursday.

Earlier this month the Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation warned they’d pursue litigation if Judd didn’t drop the uniform at the pulpit, saying it was a violation of the separation of church and state. But sermons since show that didn’t faze the sheriff Now the group’s in what they call a ‘dicey area.’

“Right now we are talking to our complainants they are feeling a little intimidated by the reaction of the sheriff and some of the community,” FFRF Attorney Andrew Seidel told News Channel 8 by phone Thursday. The foundation now claims there are safety concerns about taking him on.

“When you’re going against the person who’s charged with enforcing the law and protecting vulnerable people like that, you know it’s doubly dangerous,” he said. Admittedly, the one who called that group is Ellenbeth Wachs. “When I see someone in government doing something wrong or illegal I have to speak up,” Wachs said.

In 2010 she’s the one who protested the Sheriff’s gift of county-owned basketball hoops to local churches.  She felt they should stay within the county, but not be given to a religious institution. She’s at it again, but treading lightly. “I’ve been nervous since 2010,” Wachs said.

The Sheriff said the group shouldn’t fear their safety in Polk County. “I can’t control whether or not they sue but I can tell you this, I’m not gonna let anybody hurt them,” Judd said.  “I protect everybody, even those that file frivolous lawsuits,” he added.

The group vows they aren’t dropping this altogether. Their next step is contacting the Polk County Commission. “The sheriff is adamant in his stand, maybe the people who control his budget are a little bit more reasonable,” Seidel said.

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