Amber Guyger trial raises freedom from religion debate
Amber Guyger’s trial sparked protests over policing, but what happened after is now raising complaints over the US Constitution’s separation of church and state.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint Thursday against Judge Tammy Kemp for giving the woman convicted of killing her neighbor a Bible while in the courtroom. The foundation said Kemp’s “proselytizing actions overstepped judicial authority” and has asked the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate.
Former Dallas police officer Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison — a sentence many have called inadequate — for the murder of Botham Jean, whom she says she fatally shot after she entered his apartment thinking it was her own. At the end of the emotionally charged trial, Kemp gave Guyger a hug and a Bible.
“You can have mine. I have three or four more at home,” she said. “This is the one I use every day. This is your job for the next month. It says right here. John 3:16. And this is where you start. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life …'”
While it is acceptable for Kemp to express her faith as a private citizen, the complaint argues, she was representing the US government at the time.
“We, too, believe our criminal justice system needs more compassion from judges and prosecutors. But here, compassion crossed the line into coercion. And there can be few relationships more coercive than a sentencing judge in a criminal trial and a citizen accused and convicted of a crime,” the complaint said.
Organization co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor are asking for the commission to investigate the actions as a violation under the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
CNN has reached out to Kemp for comment.
A human moment
The exchange between Kemp and Guyger followed a pivotal moment in the trial. During the sentencing hearing, Jean’s brother Brandt testified that he forgave Guyger and asked the judge if he could get down to hug Guyger.
The two embraced in the courtroom.
Kemp allowed Brandt Jean’s hug and later offered Guyger one herself.
While some are arguing that Kemp’s hug showed a legal conflict, S. Lee Merritt, who represents the family, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that it was a human moment.
Merritt offered that anyone touching the convicted defendant in the courtroom poses safety concerns and might not have been a wise decision. But he added that Brandt’s testimony had changed the environment of the room.
“I think it had everything to do with (Kemp) being a human in that moment. This young man had shown amazing strength of character in extending love and forgiveness to Amber Guyger,” Merritt told Cooper. “I think (Kemp) got caught up in the moment.”
Jean’s mother, Allison, told Cooper that the kindness, love and forgiveness was emblematic of the life Botham led.
“When I saw Brandt up there and what he was saying, I really felt Botham’s presence in the room,” she said.
She added that a foundation has been established in her son’s name to continue the efforts he valued by supporting those impacted by police brutality, speaking out on gun control and bringing racial unity.
“What Brandt did yesterday was really the first step,” she said.
CNN’s Dave Alsup contributed to this report.