Police department blames murders on Satan

OPP, Ala. (AP) - A rural Alabama police department that used social media to scold community members for rejecting God came under fire from a group that opposes mixing government and religious faith.

A statement the Opp Police Department posted Tuesday on Facebook blamed a spike in area homicides on the idea that young people have turned away from God and "embraced Satan." The post followed two gunshot killings in as many days in Covington County on the Alabama-Florida line.

But the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation said police in the town of 6,500 people were wrongly promoting religion with the social media message. It's illegal for a government entity to endorse or criticize religious belief, the group said in a statement.

Opp police didn't immediately return a phone call Thursday seeking comment, but the post was removed from the department's Facebook page.

Written in all capital letters, the department's message said five homicides had occurred in the county in 2018.

"THESE MURDERS HAVE BEEN DONE BY OUR YOUNG PEOPLE. THIS IS HAPPENING BECAUSE WE HAVE TURNED AWAY FROM GOD AND EMBRACED SATAN. WE MAY HAVE NOT MEANT TO DO SO BUT, WE HAVE. IT IS TIME TO ASK FOR GOD'S HELP TO STOP THIS," part of the post read.

An attorney for the Freedom From Religion group, Sam Grover, said the message crossed the line between separation of church and state.

"The department has very directly endorsed one religious ideology to the exclusion of minority religions and atheism, and decried Satanism. Neither message is permissible," Grover said in a statement.

Other Alabama police agencies have invoked God in an effort to stem crime.

One former Birmingham police chief, A.C. Roper, held prayer walks through neighborhoods; another, Annetta Nunn, promoted a Bible-based plan of instilling civic responsibility.

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