Albuquerque, NM—The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico sent a letter today to Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston protesting plans to hold the only graduation ceremony for new County deputies at Legacy Church in Albuquerque. The ceremony will take place at 1:30 PM this Friday, August 26 at the church located on Central Avenue NW. According to biographical information posted on the County’s website, Houston worked as Legacy Church’s director of security “for several years” before becoming County Sheriff. Like Houston, BCSO Captain Scott Baird also is a member of the Legacy Church.
“Government officials should not use their official positions to promote their personal religious beliefs,” said ACLU Executive Director Peter Simonson. “Sheriff Houston evidently has a close relationship with Legacy Church. If he wants to encourage people to follow his faith, he should do it outside of the work context and should not use the authority of his position to require new deputies to attend the only official graduation ceremony in his place of worship.”
The ACLU’s letter cites multiple legal cases in which courts held that no government entity “can force [or] influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will.” The letter ends with the request that Sheriff Houston identify a new, non-religious location for the August 26th graduation ceremony.
Simonson said, “It is hard to believe that there were no non-religious sites available to hold this event. Why put the County in the position of discriminating among different faiths? Inevitably the Sheriff is going to alienate some deputies and their families who do not subscribe to his particular religious beliefs and cause them to fear retaliation if they voice their concerns to their new bosses.”
CONTACT: Peter Simonson, Executive Director, (505) 266-5915 Ext. 1002, [email protected]