September 3, 2015

Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN communications director, (615) 320-7142

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sent a letter to the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association today urging it to take a public stance against racial and cultural profiling and to provide guidance on the issue to its members. The letter was sent in the wake of two Tennessee sheriffs making public, anti-Muslim comments.

“In the wake of these discriminatory comments, the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association has an opportunity to be a standard-bearer for fair, non-biased police practices,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Targeting people based on religion or race without any evidence of criminal activity is not only unfair, it’s bad policing. The sheriffs’ association should add its name to the long list of professional law enforcement and criminal justice groups that have soundly rejected racial and religious profiling.”

ACLU-TN sent the letter after media accounts surfaced detailing remarks made by Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Sevier County Sheriff Ronald Seals at local political meetings. Hammond called Islam “a state, wrapped in a religion” that has “built a structure to take over this country,” posing a threat to constitutional government. Seals proclaimed that President Obama “belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood” and stated, in response to an audience member’s claim that Muslims are “going into churches [and] being aggressive,” that Sevier County churches would be protected because “most churches in Sevier County … [have] people that’s in there that’s armed.” Both sheriffs announced plans to closely monitor Muslim residents of their counties.

According to ACLU-TN’s letter, “…the United States Constitution and…the Tennessee Constitution protect every Tennessean’s freedom to worship…Muslims, like people from other religious traditions, have the right to practice their religion freely, without fear of harassment or harm…the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions also prohibit the singling out of religious groups for discrimination. Targeting people…on the basis of their perceived race…or religion rather than evidence of criminal activity is racial and cultural profiling[,]…at odds with our American values of fairness and justice [and] betraying the promise of equal protection under the law.”

The letter continues, “…racial profiling is ineffective. Law enforcement officers who stop or search individuals based solely on demographic factors rather than evidence of criminal activity are less effective at protecting public safety because they waste resources following an unproductive, bias-based approach rather than conducting actual police work.”

Professional law enforcement organizations and numerous other groups oppose profiling, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Department of Justice, the Tennessee General Assembly, and law enforcement agencies across the state that already have policies in place prohibiting racial profiling and bias-based policing.

ACLU-TN’s letter urges the sheriffs’ association to publicly speak out against bias-based policing and to promote model policies and practices that prohibit such conduct to law enforcement statewide.

ACLU-TN also sent letters to the Hamilton and Sevier County sheriffs urging them to retract their statements and to ensure that their departments do not engage in profiling.

“Profiling siphons resources away from actual police work and undermines public safety by eroding trust in law enforcement,” Weinberg continued. “Muslims, like all religious Tennesseans, have a right to practice their faith free from harassment—and that includes harassment by law enforcement.”

A copy of the letter sent today to the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association is available here.