MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation is blasting the Montgomery Police Department's new "Operation Good Shepherd" program as a violation of the Constitution and is demanding the city end the program or face a lawsuit.
The organization sent a letter Wednesday to Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange demanding the city end "Operation Good Shepherd", a program the atheist organization says is a publicly funded Christian ministry that seeks to lower crime by converting people to Christianity.
[DOCUMENT: Freedom From Religion Foundation letter (.pdf)]
"The MPD is deliberately taking advantage of the victims of crime or loss and using their fragile, vulnerable state to attempt to convert them," the FFRF said.
FFRF says "Operation Good Shepherd" is unconstitutional, violating the Establishment Clause's separation of church and state.
Mayor Strange refuted the organization's assertions that the city was somehow trying to convert people to a particular religion, saying he was "flabbergasted". He says "Operation Good Shepherd" is a crime fighting initiative, not a recruiting tool for religion and even welcomed the FFRF to join the cause if it will help reduce crime.
"What we are really trying to do is find the mechanism that we can get out in front of this [crime] to help victims... " the mayor said.
The program was started in June 2013 with a standing-room only crowd gathered to take part. In August, a class of 34 ministers graduated from the mandatory training class that included training on how to respond to a crime scene, how to approach victims and information on drug and gang awareness.
FFRF says Jesus will not lower crime and points to research it says indicates that the less religious a country is, the lower the violent crime and homicide rate. It also says the higher the rate of religion, the higher the rate of poverty, obesity, STDs, teen pregnancy, violent crime and homicide.
FFRF says the studies "do not prove that religion is the cause of all of society's ills, but it certainly seems like Operation Good Shepherd might be throwing gasoline on a fire."