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Montgomery responds to atheist organization's demand it end "Operation Good Shepherd"

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

The City of Montgomery is formally responding to a demand from an atheist organization that it end its "Operation Good Shepherd" program on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state.

In a letter dated October 22, 2013, Montgomery City Attorney Kimberly Fehl responded to David Silverman, President of American Atheists, Inc. of New Jersey.

[DOCUMENT: Montgomery response letter to American Atheists, Inc. (.pdf)]

In the letter, Felh addresses the organization's October 7, 2013 letter to Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and Police Chief Kevin Murphy.

Another letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation was sent at the same time.

Felh says there "has been a misrepresentation of the object and implementation of the program. Operation Good Shepherd is one of a number of initiatives of the Montgomery Police Department as part of its efforts to combat an increase in violent crime."

Felh cites many of the different community groups and entities, including faith-based organizations, that have come forward to "engage with the city out of concern for Montgomery's increase in homicides."

The city's attorney says Operation Good Shepherd is for crime prevention "and not for the purpose of religious promotion or recruitment." She reiterated that religious leaders have volunteered to assist as counselors "and their traditions of faith are not considered when applying for the program."

The letter ends with Felh inviting "any assistance you or anyone else may offer to combat increases in crime in our community."

When asked by WSFA 12 News for an on-camera interview, the Montgomery Police Department said that, due to the possibility of litigation, it would not publicly comment and referred all questions to the city's legal department.

Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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