The nation's largest atheist legal organization has filed a complaint against Judge Tammy Kemp for giving a Bible to ex-police officer Amber Guyger to read in prison, which they say was an act of "inappropriately proselytizing."
In footage that has gone viral, Kemp, who presided over Amber Guyger's murder trial, gave the ex-officer a Bible she kept with her at the courthouse and used every day. Kemp opened the Bible and told Guyger: "You can have mine. I have three or four more at home. This is your job for the next month. Right here. John 3:16."
"And this is where you start," Kemp said, reading the verse: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.'"
“He has a purpose for you," she continued. "This will strengthen you. You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this.”
"It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ. I’m not so good. You haven’t done as much as you think you have, and you can be forgiven. You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters," she told Guyger.
On Thursday, the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a formal complaint against Kemp, arguing that the judge had abused her power.
"We, too, believe our criminal justice system needs more compassion from judges and prosecutors. But here, compassion crossed the line into coercion. And there can be few relationships more coercive than a sentencing judge in a criminal trial and a citizen accused and convicted of a crime," the complaint reads.
FFRF maintains that though Kemp has the right to express her faith as a private citizen, in this context she was serving in a government capacity.
“It violates the constitutional separation between state and church for a sitting judge to promote personal religious beliefs while acting in her official capacity,” the letter reads.
"She was in a government courtroom, dressed in a judicial robe, with all of the imprimatur of the state, including armed law enforcement officers, preaching to someone who was quite literally a captive audience. Delivering Bibles, Bible studies and personal witness as a judge is an abuse of power,” FFRF continues in its argument.
Dallas County District Attorney John Cruezot took the opposite view, saying he would back Kemp.
“If anyone complained, I would do everything I could to support the appropriateness of it. I can’t tell you I’ve done the same exact thing, but I have spoken to defendants, have I given them a hug, perhaps. Not given a Bible, that’s not me, but I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about what she did, and I would support that, if anyone tried to file a complaint, I would do my best to intercede and protect her,” he said in an interview CBS' DFW affiliate when asked if Kemp violated court protocol.
Guyger was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean, in September 2018. On Wednesday, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison with the possibility of parole after five years.
The former officer testified that she had entered Botham's apartment by mistake following a 14-hour shift, thinking it was her apartment and that Botham was a burglar.
FFRF was founded in 1978 as a pro-choice nonprofit group based in Madison, Wisconsin. Since then, it has become a legal organization that argues for the separation of church and state. It boasts of 30,000 members nationwide and several chapters across the country, including over 1,300 members in Texas and a chapter in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.