An atheist group is condemning a Texas judge’s “proselytizing actions” in giving a Bible to former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger.
The nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an ethics complaint against State District Judge Tammy Kemp for her actions Wednesday during Guyger’s murder trial, claiming that “compassion crossed the line into coercion” as the judge hugged the defendant and gave her a Bible.
In a letter to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in Texas, the watchdog group claimed that Kemp’s “proselytizing actions overstepped judicial authority, were inappropriate and were unconstitutional.”
“It appears from the exchange that Guyger may not have identified as Christian, but Guyger’s religion does not change the constitutional or ethical analysis,” the letter stated. “Even were Guyger an avowed devout Christian, the gesture would still have been inappropriate and unconstitutional because Judge Kemp was acting in her official governmental capacity.”
Guyger had contended that her shooting of 26-year-old Botham Jean was an accident but she was found guilty of murder and sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison. In a gripping moment before Kemp’s interaction, Jean’s 18-year-old brother, Brandt, hugged Guyger after publicly forgiving her and encouraging her to become a Christian.
JUDGE EMBRACES GUYGER: Judge Kemp reads the bible to #AmberGuyger and hugs the convicted murderer after her sentencing.
— Court TV (@CourtTV) October 3, 2019
Kemp then approached Guyger after she descended from the stand and briefly entered her chambers where she reemerged with her Bible. The judge also hugged Guyger and offered her the Bible, pointing out the well-known scripture verse, John 3:16.
“This is where you start,” Kemp said, telling her that God “has a purpose for you.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation acknowledged that “it was an emotional moment,” but argued that it still was “sufficient to show an ethics violation,” claiming that Kemp could share her faith in her personal time but not while “in a government courtroom, dressed in a judicial robe, with all of the imprimatur of the state, including armed law enforcement officers.”
“Delivering bibles and personally witnessing as a judge is an egregious abuse of power,” the complaint stated while requesting the Commission “investigate these actions for violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct” and ensure it would not happen again.
The complaint was signed by the group’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, who told CBS 11 that Kemp’s actions were “egregious” and “shocking.”
The nation’s largest non-profit legal organization, First Liberty Institute, defended Kemp’s “noble and legal” actions.
“FFRF is protesting Judge Kemp rather than joining the rest of the nation celebrating the compassion and mercy Judge Kemp demonstrated.” – Hiram Sasser, General Counsel to @1stLiberty #JudgeTammyKemphttps://t.co/sJXl67IMS5 pic.twitter.com/7B3HaM8V9T
— First Liberty Institute (@1stLiberty) October 4, 2019
Jeremy Dys, Liberty Institute senior counsel, slammed the Freedom From Religion complaint as “despicable.”
“The very fact that someone would complain about a judge demonstrating her humanity and trying to provide a measure of mercy and kindness toward a sentenced felon now, I think is despicable,” he told CBS 11.
“We’ve got a long-standing tradition of people occupying not only a public office, but having their pubic office and their official roles there being formed by their personal faith,” he added.
There were plenty of Twitter users who shared the attorney’s view.
We knew a complaint would follow the Hon. Judge Kemp’s love & spiritual compassion for Amber. No doubt First Liberty will score another victory with the representation of this case! We will be praying for a speedy conclusion so that we can participate in another victory lap!!!
— Kathy Neff (@KathyNeff04) October 4, 2019
That too bad. Legally, morally, socially FFRF IS WRONG.
— Chuck Cloyd / Songwriter (@Chuck_Cloyd) October 4, 2019
God bless Judge Kemp!
— Linda Blevins (@ldpcoc) October 4, 2019
Judge Kemp did the right thing
— Marlys Agnew Woods (@marleetwin) October 4, 2019
I’ve known Judge Kemp for nearly twenty years, her character and passion for justice is without question. She has served this community faithfully for many years. But her heart and passion for her faith is always greater!! Thanks for showing us both truth and grace!! https://t.co/7hgZcPjzLf
— Bryan Carter (@mrbryanlcarter) October 3, 2019
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