Free to Believe

Grady Judd

First Baptist Church at the Mall: Lakeland, Florida

Last April, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd delivered a sermon at the First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, wearing his sheriff’s uniform. The sermon, which attracted the attention of the Wisconsin-based atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), was entitled “Wouldn’t the World be a Better Place if Everyone Behaved Like a Christian.” It focused on developing faith-based dorms at the Polk County Jail, and also included stories of criminals who changed their lives after finding Jesus.

The FFRF warned the sheriff that preaching in uniform “sends a message of exclusion” to non-Christians and threatened to sue if Judd continues to wear his official uniform while preaching. “You cannot preach in church as Sheriff Judd, you must do so as Mr. Judd, private citizen,” the FFRF said. Mat Staver and Liberty Counsel offered to defend Sheriff Judd and his freedom to speak at a church as a public official. Sheriff Judd refused to back down and preached a Father’s Day message in his law enforcement uniform.