The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a letter of complaint with a Texas judicial conduct commission against a Dallas judge for offering a Bible to former police officer Amber Guyger after sentencing her for the murder of her neighbor, Botham Jean.
The actions of Judge Tammy Kemp of Texas’ 204th District Court were captured on video Thursday (Oct. 3) shortly after Kemp sentenced Guyger to 10 years in prison. Shortly before, her victim’s brother had hugged Guyger and told her he forgave her.
Judge Tammy Kemp of Texas’ 204th District Court gave the former Dallas police officer her Bible, telling her “this is your job for the next month. Right here . . . He has a purpose for you. This will strengthen you. You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this.”
The two then embraced as Kemp told Guyger, “You haven’t done as much as you think you have, and you can be forgiven. You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.”
Shortly before, the victim’s brother gave a powerful statement in which he forgave Guyger and called her to “give your life to Christ.” The two then embraced.
The FFRF, a watchdog group that works to protect the separation of church and state, said the judge’s actions were “inappropriate and unconstitutional” because she was acting in an official rather than a private role.
“She was in a government courtroom, dressed in a judicial robe, with all of the imprimatur of the state, including armed law enforcement officers, preaching to someone who was quite literally a captive audience, and even instructing her on which bible verses to read!” wrote Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-presidents, in the Wednesday (Oct. 2) letter to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
“We understand that it was an emotional moment, particularly when the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, publicly forgave and hugged Guyger,” wrote the FFRF officials.
“It is perfectly acceptable for private citizens to express their religious beliefs in court, but the rules are different for those acting in a governmental role.”
Others praised the judge for her actions.
“FFRF is protesting Judge Kemp rather than joining the rest of the nation celebrating the compassion and mercy Judge Kemp demonstrated,” said Hiram Sasser, general counsel of First Liberty Institute. “We should all be thankful the law allows Judge Kemp’s actions and we stand with her and will gladly lead the charge in defending her noble and legal actions.”
A tweet from the Dallas Police Department’s Twitter account said, “Botham Jean’s brother’s request to hug Amber Guyger and Judge Kemp’s gift of her bible to Amber represent a spirit of forgiveness, faith and trust. In this same spirit, we want to move forward in a positive direction with the community.”
Footage from a Law & Crime Network video, whose link FFRF included in its complaint, shows Kemp crossing the courtroom, Bible in hand, to where Guyger was seated.
“This is the one I use every day,” she can be heard saying. “This is your job for the next month. You read right here: John 3:16. And this is where you start, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever’” You stop at ‘whosoever’ and say, ‘Amber.’”
At some points in the face-to-face conversation, Guyger nods. Kemp hugs her twice during the exchange, which lasted more than four minutes.
FFRF asked the commission to investigate Kemp’s actions for possible violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and “take all appropriate steps to ensure no future misconduct.”
Gaylor, co-president of FFRF, said there have been other instances when her organization considered judges’ religious actions to be inappropriate.
— by Adelle M. Banks | RNS