UPDATE: ACLU asks Mounds police chief to halt religious Facebook posts

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Mounds Police Department Chief Antonio Porter. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

UPDATE: The Oklahoma Chapter of the ACLU sent a letter to the town of Mounds on Wednesday asking for Police Chief Antonio Porter to cease his habit of making religious posts on the department’s Facebook page.

The letter was sent by the ACLU a day after a story by The Frontier on Porter’s posts.

“They are clear violations of a foundational constitutional principle of both the state of Oklahoma and the nation as a whole,” the letter states.

Porter could not be immediately reached for comment.

The full text of the letter is below.

The original story is below

Having retired after nearly three decades with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Antonio Porter faced a situation not unlike many recent retirees.

He was pissing off his wife.

“She was like ‘You have to stop bothering me while I’m at work,’” Porter said, laughing. “She was saying ‘Someone has to work now.’”

So when he heard the Mounds Police Chief job was available late last year, he applied and was eventually hired.

With the job came the department’s Facebook account. Located about 20 miles south of Tulsa, Mounds boasts on its town website that it is “defined less by boundaries” and more “by a sense of shared values.” The town — named for two small nearby hills — was founded in the late 1890s and has just over 1,100 residents.

But Porter, who doubles as a pastor of a small church in Eufaula, has managed to find an audience regardless.

His first foray into social media came in an unlikely place.

“I would post bible verses on LinkedIn, and I would get a lot of response,” he said, noting he has more than 3,000 followers on a site known more as a job-seeking tool than as social media.

When Porter took over as Mounds Police Chief on Nov. 1, he was mostly quiet on the department’s Facebook page. Postings came sporadically, and were about things like the canceled Christmas Parade, or about a particularly noisy helicopter in the area.

It wasn’t until July that he started posting bible verses and before long the page’s popularity was growing.

A July 16 post about a verse from the book of Isaiah generated more than 500 likes — equivalent to about half the town’s population. Two days later, 154 likes on a verse about men “being traitors,” later that month, about 300 likes on a post about the biblical King David’s fear of being stoned.

The page’s cover photo, a drawing of a police officer with angel wings extending from his back, has more than 760 likes.

Porter wagers that since late July, he has posted a bible verse every other day, if not more often.

“There have been a lot of incidents with law enforcement that’s on the negative side,” Porter said. “Mine is on the positive side. I’m not looking to get notoriety, it’s just from my heart, showing that we do care.

“You know we hear so much about the thin blue line, or Black Lives Matter, and I just like to share something uplifting.”

In late August, as Hurricane Harvey was burying parts of Texas under feet of water, Porter asked his Facebook followers to “Please be in prayer for the victims in Texas and the emergency services.” That post received more than 2,000 likes.

He confided that he does occasionally “boost” a Facebook post — a process by which you can pay the social media giant a fee in order for your post to be shown to a wider audience — but said the money comes from his personal bank account.

“Oh the city would never allow me to (pay with city funds,)” he said. “Sometimes I’ll get a notification from Facebook saying my post would be better if more people saw it, so I’ll pay so that happens.”

He said the religious nature of the page — the vast majority of posts are more about bible verses and “daily devotionals” as he calls them, and less about crime — hasn’t resulted in any backlash.

“If I get backlash, I guess I wouldn’t really care,” he said. “I haven’t heard from anyone who doesn’t like them, but I have heard people say ‘Wow I’d never think a police department would post something like this,’ or I get messages all the time that say ‘Wow, this really helped me.’

“I’ve only had a few people ask if I was worried about the nature of the posts, and the answer is not really.”

A police department in Tennessee removed a plaque from their building earlier this summer after a complaint was filed by an atheist group from Wisconsin.

The plaque, which read “If God be for us, then who can be against us?” was not in a public area, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, but was removed and placed elsewhere inside the department’s headquarters.

The city’s law director told the newspaper he felt the battle could have been won in court, but did not want to spend tax money to fight the plaque’s removal.

Porter said if someone is offended by his Facebook posts that he would tell them that despite the fact that he pastors a christian church, and has shared only verses from the Christian bible, that he has not advocating any particular religion.

“Prayer is universal, and that’s all I’m asking for,” he said. “Pray to your god, pray to my god, just pray. If that’s offensive to them then my apologies. I’m just putting it out there, and the people love it.”

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Dylan Goforth

Editor in Chief/Staff Writer

Dylan is a news junkie, fantasy sports advocate and QuikTrip addict. When he's not refreshing Twitter, setting too many fantasy lineups or munching on a taquito, he spends his time covering crime and social issues in Tulsa and around the state. Contact: dylan@readfrontier.com or 918-931-9405.
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