The police department in Knoxville, Tennessee has removed a plaque that contains a Bible verse from its headquarters last week following legal threats from a Wisconsin-based atheist group.
According to Knoxville News Sentinel, the East Tennessee chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a complaint about the plaque with the verse Romans 8:31, which states, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, then who can be against us?"
Aleta Ledendecker, who sent the complaint letter on behalf of FFRF in February, said that the organization was contacted by one of its members about the plaque. She reportedly sent three letters to the department, threatening a lawsuit.
On July 26, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch announced the removal of the plaque, which was located on a wall near an employee deli inside the Safety Building, where the police department is headquartered.
City Law Director Charles Swanson said that the city could have fought a legal battle to keep the plaque in place, but he said he agreed with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero's decision not to spend taxpayer money to fund the case.
Rogero, who identifies as a Christian, said in a news conference on Wednesday that the city had determined that the plaque crossed a "clearly established line" with government promoting a particular religion.
"As our founders recognized when they wrote the Constitution, the best protection for religious liberty is to restrict the government's role in promoting or endorsing any particular faith," the mayor said, as reported by CBN News.
"As Christians, we may not always realize that our co-workers or our constituents do not all see the world the same way we do. We may not understand that a Bible verse that gives us strength and comfort may send an entirely different message to someone else: That you are not welcome here, that this governmental body does not represent you," she added.
Rogero further explained that the city would spend the money if the officials believed that they could win a lawsuit.
Some police officers and civilian personnel were reportedly upset with Rogero for caving to FFRF, but Rausch defended the mayor, noting that she did not order the sign to be removed. The police chief maintained that the removal of the plaque was a "legal decision based on current case law" resulting from research conducted by the law department.
Rausch further explained that the plaque was not intended to promote religion, and noted that it was viewed as a motivational quote similar to those spoken by respected leaders throughout history.
The police chief said that the plaque will be moved to a new Hall of Inspiration that will be created inside the Safety Building. The section will be devoted to all faiths and will include plaques that contain messages from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism as well as from Christianity. It will also include plaques containing non-religious quotes from famous figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., President Ronald Reagan, Mark Twain and Aristotle.