Keeping the focus on a Georgia police officer who was the object of “religious bigotry,” a contingent from the Family Research Council traveled to Port Wentworth, Ga., to present a petition in support of the former officer to the town’s city manager.
The petition, which contained nearly 35,000 signatures, called for the city to apologize to Jacob Kersey, the 19-year-old who was threatened with dismissal from the Port Wentworth Police Department for referencing the biblical definition of marriage on his personal Facebook page.
The offending January 2 social media post? “God designed marriage. Marriage refers to Christ and the church. That’s why there is no such thing as homosexual marriage.”
Jody Hice, FRC’s senior advisor to the president, met with Kersey and pastors in Port Wentworth, a Savannah suburb, calling on the town leaders “to apologize to Jacob and to cease fostering an environment of religious hostility for their city employees.”
The petition read in part, “Jacob has been gravely mistreated by the Port Wentworth Police Department for his First Amendment-protected, biblically accurate views.” The document noted that with rising crime rates, it seems ironic that Kersey was being targeted for his personal religious perspectives. “... Our communities should be supporting our law enforcement officers. You instead punished Jacob for sharing the biblical view that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.”
When his superiors told him he had to take down the post on marriage, Kersey declined to do so. In an interview with CBN, he said it was a “deeply-held Christian belief of mine,” and he had no choice but to resign his position. “I knew immediately I had to take a stand for God’s word,” he explained.
A January 13 communication from the department to Kersey revealed the department did not “find sufficient evidence to establish a violation of policies.” Still, it did lay out a new policy to handle social media posts the department found troubling.
The department’s statement to the former officer indicates that termination could occur “if any post on any of your social media platforms renders you unable to perform, or to be seen as unable to perform, your job in a fair and equitable manner.” Kersey said in a personal YouTube post, he “didn’t think it wise to go out there and play that game with the police department.”
I resigned because I was given an ultimatum,” Kersey told CBN. “I was told I could resign now or be fired later” because he was not willing to set his faith aside for fear of offending someone.
Jody Hice, a former Georgia congressman, called on Port Wentworth city officials to “respect and abide by the most basic of American freedoms, the freedom of religion” in their treatment of Kersey.
Appearing on “Washington Watch,”, Hice told FRC President Tony Perkins that Kersey, who had been on the police force only a few months, is the victim of a “very serious overreach of government discrimination and hostility toward people of faith.”
He said the presentation of the petition to Port Wentworth officials and the meetings with local pastors was “inspiring,” and that everyone involved gained an “awareness of the fact that religious liberties in this country are under attack.”
“We are facing so many threats to our freedoms,” Perkins said, noting while there might not be a need to be overly alarmed at the moment, “We need to be concerned. … We need to be prayerful and we need to be standing up and speaking out.”
Hice said the issue goes beyond free speech. There was a very real awareness among those praying in Port Wentworth that this is a matter of religious liberty. It is an effort “to keep wide open the doors of the Gospel both now and for future generations,” he continued.
“I was off duty when I expressed these religious beliefs,” said Kersey, according to a WSAV-TV report. “If you can’t speak your religion, then you do not have religious freedom, and this nation was founded on religious freedom.”
Kelvin Cochran, the former Atlanta, Ga., fire chief who was fired in 2015 for expressing his biblical views on marriage and sexuality in a devotional he wrote for his Sunday School class, was also in Port Wentworth to support Kersey. Hice noted Cochran had “literally been through the fire” that Kersey experienced with the police department and was able to encourage the young man.
While Port Wentworth city leaders may have been “anticipating a crowd that was going to be extremely hostile toward them,” Hice said, “everyone was extremely kind and generous.”
Kersey, along with First Baptist Garden City Senior Pastor Tommy Duke, First Baptist Port Wentworth Pastor Paul Mongin, Bishop Garland Hunt, Jody Hice, and Mark Harris, vice president of FRC's Association of Churches & Ministries, presented the petition to Port Wentworth's City Manager Steve Davis March 10. The group also prayed for Port Wentworth Mayor Gary Norton who is currently hospitalized.
K.D. Hastings and his family live in the beautiful hills of Middle Tennessee. He has been engaged in the evangelical world as a communicator since 1994.