BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington is taking a stand against a Department of Justice demand to remove "inherently religious activities" from the local Young Marines program run by his office.
The Bossier Sheriff's Office sponsors and administers the local chapter of the Young Marines, a youth education and service program for boys and girls age 8 through completion of high school. The program is provided free of charge to participants. According to information posted on the sheriff's office web site, "The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its young recruits." It's also designed to help at-risk youth develop goals of academic success.
The Young Marine Obligation, much like an oath, includes the promise to "never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines."
It's that oath, and the voluntary prayer included in the program, that got the attention of someone in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division during an audit last year. According to BPSO spokesman Lt. Bill Davis, Sheriff Whittington received notice from the DOJ requesting that Whittington sign a letter agreeing to remove God and the voluntary prayer from the program, or forego the $15,000 in federal funding for that program, as well as another $15,000 for the Bossier Youth Diversion program.
"We're not promoting any specific religion, this is just voluntary prayer, mention of God, how offensive and bad can that be?" Whittington said and has refused to sign such a letter, and instead sent a letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the state's attorney general and local and congressional representatives asking for their attention to what he calls an "appalling situation where someone at the Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, in Washington D.C. could, would and did go to great lengths to prevent even the mere mention of God in any way to the youth in these programs."
"As a Christian, Sheriff and American citizen, I am writing to express my frustration and concern over the persistent aggression and infringement of our religious freedoms which have been imposed upon the law enforcement grant programs, specifically related to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement." The LCLE distributes federal funding for programs like the Young Marines.
The letter details what Whittington calls "bureaucratic nonsense," and closes with a vow to never sign the requested letter preventing these "inherently religious activities" from being part of the Bossier Sheriff's Office programs, saying "compromise is not an option."
"When something is not right and you know its not right and you keep bowing down, nothing is ever going to change," Whittington told KSLA News 12.
State Senator Barrow Peacock of Bossier City says he supports Whittington 100%. His Senate resolution asking the state's congressional delegation to review the issue with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights passed unanimously on June 5. "I think it's a shame that our federal government basically has strings attached to federal funding, when its our first amendment right to have freedom of religion in our country," said Sen. Peacock.
Sen. David Vitter also vowed to review the issue.
"It is deplorable that the administration is discriminating against this laudable program, but unfortunately it's not surprising. I'll definitely be looking into this," Vitter says.
There seems to be support from the community as well. Lt. Davis says that, while they are not actively soliciting donations, there have been offers of financial support and fundraising efforts are under way.
In his letter to Gov. Jindal, Whittington says his office has the resources to continue the both programs, but expresses concern that other agencies that are dependent on these grants will be forced to agree to unacceptable terms in order to receive funding. "We're going to find a way to carry on the program, we're going to do with or without federal funding. So thanks but no thanks!" said Whittington.
Calls to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division requesting comment have not yet been returned.
KISS COUNTRY 93.7 has started donations drive for the Young Marines called the "In God We Trust Campaign!" If you believe in this cause and the stand that Sheriff Whittington has made and you'd like to help fund the Young Marines Program, you can make a check out to:
"Young Marines Program" The mailing address is: P. O. Box 850. Benton, LA. 71006. Any amount will be greatly appreciated.