Atheist group files complaint over judge's behavior in Amber Guyger case

Atheist group files complaint over judge's behavior in Amber Guyger case

The trial of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas policewoman who stood trial for killing Botham Jean, included a jaw-dropping exchange between Jean’s younger brother, Brandt and the accused. Brandt asked for permission to hug Guyger after telling the court, and Amber, that he forgives her and wishes her well.

Judge Tammy Kemp was moved to tears and could be seen wiping her eyes. The judge at first hesitated but then granted permission for Jean to hug his brother’s killer. I’ve never seen such a thing in a murder trial and it was impossible to witness without reacting. I was stunned.

The quiet grace coming from the younger brother was something not witnessed often. He presented himself unapologetically as a man of faith and he told the court that his brother would have wanted him to forgive her. By wishing her the best, he explained, he hoped she would turn her life over to God and ask Him for forgiveness because that is what his brother would have wanted.

While many had a problem with Guyger’s sentence of 10 years behind bars instead of the maximum of 99 years, most of the reaction to Brandt Jean’s outreach to Guyger was positive. Witnessing Jean’s act of forgiveness for someone who killed his beloved older brother was a rare experience. Others posted reactions of disdain and an inability to imagine doing such a thing themselves. In other words, they took an incredibly moving moment and crapped all over it. That’s the nature of social media, though, so it wasn’t a big shock.

Enter Freedom from Religion Foundation. A complaint has been filed against Judge Tammy Kemp for her behavior after sentencing Guyger and before she left the courtroom. It turns out that the judge went over to Guyger as she sat at the defense table and prayed for her, Bible in hand. On one clip I listened to, I could hear the judge say, “For God so loved the world…” so apparently John 3:16 was a part of her message to Amber Guyger. This move by the judge was quite unexpected. Like the hug, I’ve never seen anything like that happening in a courtroom.

I wasn’t aware of this part of the story until Friday morning when I noticed that Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in Austin. The complaint is that the judge was “proselytizing in her official capacity”. FFRF claims Judge Kemp gave the Bible to Guyger and showed her how to read it. Also, they claim, Kemp pointed out passages for Guyger to pay attention to as she read it. The complaint references John 3:16 specifically.

The non-profit foundation’s “About” page declares that “The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.” That is consistent with the name of the foundation, right? The foundation is comprised of atheists. The First Amendment is often brought into religious versus atheist arguments. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Clear enough. The separation between church and state is one that should be maintained.

There is the subject of compassion, though, and I think that plays into this argument. While I understand that the complaint lodged by the foundation is consistent with its mission, is it just going through the motions to satisfy its members? The website advertises a national convention later this month. Is this complaint, which is garnering national attention, a part of fulfilling the foundation’s mission while fundraising off it, too? Pardon my cynicism but I don’t believe in coincidence. The foundation brings attention to a gesture from the judge that wasn’t a part of the story as far as most observers – like me – were aware. Maybe I just missed this part of the story but I think if it was televised as the hug was, it would have also been a part of the story. The judge wiping away tears as Jean requested giving Guyger a hug was seen on camera.

I think this is a special case. This isn’t the kind of story we read about a white cop killing a black man in the line of duty. This is a story of an overly-tired off-duty cop who mistakenly entered her neighbor’s apartment thinking it was her own. It all went horribly wrong when she shot and killed a man who was eating ice cream on his sofa. She took responsibility for her actions and looked to be truly remorseful. It’s all horrible. She was suspended and then fired. She stood trial and has been sentenced to prison. This is all standard operating procedure.

The story has the twist of a practicing Christian who wanted to show the murderer compassion, as he is called to do. The judge, apparently, is also a person of faith. It looks to me that she was moved by the gesture and responded in her own way. The sentencing and statements from family members were finished by then.

I did a quick search on the judge’s actions after the trial was completed. I found that the judge comforted both families and then went to comfort Guyger. She then left the courtroom but returned with the Bible. That is when she gave it to Guyger and spoke to her about it. The Bible wasn’t in the courtroom during the trial or sentencing.

Following Wednesday’s sentencing, Judge Tammy Kemp comforted Jean’s family, then briefly spoke with Guyger and left the room. The judge soon returned with a Bible, WFAA-TV of Dallas reported.

“You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this,” she said, giving the Bible to Guyger.

Kemp and Guyger then embraced. The hug came after the brother of murder victim Botham Jean made a similar gesture toward Guyger.

All of this is out of the ordinary, to be sure. There is no indication that this is standard procedure in this judge’s courtroom. I don’t imagine we will see this again. Let her be reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct if the commission sees fit but then just let it go. Our country was founded on Christian-Judeo principles. I think the country will survive this just fine.

The Dallas Police Department feels the same way.

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