Judge Hands Amber Guyger a Bible, and Herself Controversy

Critics say Tammy Kemp shouldn't have been 'proselytizing' in court as a government worker
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2019 10:16 AM CDT
Guyger Judge's Move in Court: 'Compassion' or 'Coercion'?
Judge Tammy Kemp, right, gives former Dallas cop Amber Guyger a hug before Guyger leaves for jail on Wednesday in Dallas.   (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Convicted murderer Amber Guyger got a "remarkable" hug from the brother of her victim, Botham Jean, during her sentencing hearing Wednesday, and then she got one from presiding Judge Tammy Kemp. Now Kemp is facing complaints, both for the hug but also for a possible legal violation. With one of her personal Bibles in hand, Kemp walked over to Guyger in the courtroom and gave her the Good Book for keeps—a move that one nonprofit says flouts the First Amendment's separation of church and state clause, per CNN. "This is your job for the next month," Kemp told Guyger as she handed her the Bible, turned to the John 3:16 section, per a complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. "And this is where you start." Kemp is then said to have quoted from the Bible to Guyger.

The FFRF says that while it's "perfectly acceptable for private citizens to express their religious beliefs in court," Kemp overstepped her bounds in doing so as a government employee: "These proselytizing actions ... were inappropriate and were unconstitutional." The Dallas Morning News notes religious references have long infiltrated courtrooms across the US, including with religious displays, religious invocations before proceedings start, and even the phrase "So help me God" that witnesses say when being placed under oath; what's changed lately is that these references are more often being challenged. A rep for a nonprofit that advocates for religious liberty chastises the FFRF for not "celebrating the compassion and mercy Judge Kemp demonstrated," but the FFRF pushes back: "Here, compassion crossed the line into coercion." (More Amber Guyger stories.)

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