Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Judge can’t spread religion, FFRF says

Vol. 36 No. 09 November 2019

The proselytizing judge in the Amber Guyger case has inadvertently confessed to the validity of an ethics complaint against her, FFRF points out.

FFRF had complained to the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct when Judge Tammy Kemp presented convicted murderer and former Dallas police officer Guyger with a bible at the close of the trial on Oct. 2. Dozens of media outlets that covered the case also reported on FFRF’s complaint to the judicial conduct commission, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, MSN, USA Today and NBC, among many others.

Courtroom video had shown that following the sentencing and victim impact statement, Kemp had left the courtroom and returned with her personal bible. She had then gifted her bible to Guyger, providing her directions on how and where to read in the religious text.

Kemp said: “You can have [my bible]. I have three or four more at home. This is the one I use everyday. This is your job for the next month. 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 whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’”

She continued, “He has a purpose for you. This will strengthen you. You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this.”

These judicial actions were inappropriate and unconstitutional, FFRF contended. Government employees may not use the power and privilege of their offices to preach their personal religious beliefs, FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker emphasized.

FFRF notes that Kemp appears to have generally handled a difficult and widely publicized trial with grace and aplomb, but that her decision to preach the bible to a criminal defendant was a serious First Amendment violation and signaled to everyone watching that she is partial to Christian notions of forgiveness.

In a formal follow-up letter on Oct. 10, FFRF brought the commission’s attention to Kemp’s appearance on CNN on Oct. 8, during which she admitted that she was fulfilling her religious duty during that episode rather than her secular duty as a judge: “I kind of thought about my responsibilities as a person. And ironically, I was standing in a spot where I had been standing when I was inducted as a judge in this courtroom, and I remembered that one of the charges that I was given was to do just, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.”

Kemp is not referring to the oath she took as a judge, but is instead citing Micah 6:8 from the bible, which states: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Kemp effectively doubled down on her message that her primary duty is to her religion and not to our secular Constitution, and that those who might desire favorable treatment in her courtroom would do well to appeal to her Christian beliefs.

Many people were upset with Kemp’s decision to hug Guyger, but FFRF notes that the hug isn’t relevant to FFRF’s complaint. Its request for a formal ethics investigation rests solely on Kemp’s use of a state judicial power to promote her personal religion.

“We believe that our criminal justice system needs more compassion from judges and prosecutors, but here compassion crossed the line into coercion,” Gaylor and Barker had written in the original complaint. “And there can be few relationships more coercive than between a sentencing judge in a criminal trial and a citizen accused and convicted of a crime.”