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Petition effort claims Ashe County sheriff violated Constitution in organizing prayer event

Sheriff Terry Buchanan
Sheriff Terry Buchanan Ashe County Sheriff’s Office

An online petition calling for the termination of Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan was recently launched by an anonymous author on thepetitionsite.com.

The author of the petition is asking for as many signatures as possible in unseating the incumbent Buchanan for behavior they feel is unbecoming of the county’s highest position in law enforcement and the poster has a particular issue with Buchanan’s alleged constitutional violations.

“Ashe County NC is in great danger of a tyrant sheriff which has no regard for separation between church and state. Ashe County Sheriff’s Office, with directions from Sheriff Terry Buchanan, based in Jefferson NC, coordinated a “Time of Prayer” event on Saturday, June 24, 2017. Highlighting the event was a prayer led by Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the celebrity evangelist Billy Graham and sister of Franklin Graham. The sheriff’s office had been advertising on its official website and social media accounts, giving the appearance of government endorsement of religion. The event took place in front of the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office,” reads the post.

The unknown poster, who goes by the online pseudonym “Ashe County Lover,” said Buchanan’s behavior was in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from promoting or affiliating itself with any religious doctrine or organization. Endorsing a(sic) evangelistic Christian prayer ceremony therefore shows law enforcement officers prefer this Christianity over all other faiths and risk separation in their relationship with non-Christian and non-evangelistic citizens,” reads the post.

Furthermore, the petition claims Buchanan has violated state general statutes in hosting the event because he failed to uphold his sworn duties in the capacity of sheriff.

“The Sheriffs Oath that Sheriff Buchanan swore to states that he will support and maintain the Constitution and the laws of the United States. NC 14-230 states, if a sheriff willfully and corruptly violated his oath of office according to the true intent and meaning thereof, such officer shall be guilty of misbehavior in office, and shall be punished by removal therefrom under the sentence of the court as a part of the punishment for the offense,” said the poster.

Buchanan said he doesn’t believe the petition is newsworthy.

“I will continue to fulfill my oath as Sheriff of Ashe County by providing responsive, trustworthy, and transparent law enforcement to the citizens of Ashe County, regardless of religion or background,” he wrote in an email. “While my own personal faith in Jesus Christ is no secret, I will always treat all people interacting with my office with the dignity and respect. I can only conclude that the organizers of this petition are attempting to use my Christian beliefs to somehow further their personal and political interests. This petition is the kind of negative rhetoric which should be ignored, since it is simply not true and does not promote our community.”

Further commenters and signees of the petition did not hide their feelings for the sheriff’s recent performance while in office. Several posters went as far as to call for the re-installation of Bucky Absher, who served as sheriff in the interim following the sudden retirement of former Sheriff James Williams.

This is not the first time an online petition has surfaced locally calling for the firing of an elected or appointed official. Last year, an animal rights’ group started an online petition calling for the firing of Ashe Animal Control Director Joe Testerman. In response, supporters of Testerman retaliated with a petition of their own to save the director’s job. County commissioners took no action nor acknowledge either petition.

As of late last week the petition was just shy 100 signatures. It’s goal is 50,000.

In a June 28, email, Buchanan questioned the ethics of the Jefferson Post reporter Jesse Campbell and said, “Your personal bias is evident in your reporting. This is unfortunate considering the current state of our nation because of fake news.”

Buchanan went on to say that, “The good and honest folks of Ashe county who spend their hard earn money to buy your papers are seeking truth in reporting and not personal opinions. The attachment I’ve included on this email is the ethics code for journalist. If you desire to be a real journalist and to make this a career, I think reporting the truth is an awesome beginning.”

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