Sheriff banned unmarried staff from living with their partners — then changed his mind

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Scotland County Sheriff Ralph Kersey says he reversed his earlier decision 'after careful consideration.'

Sheriff Ralph Kersey (R) of Scotland County, North Carolina, announced a new policy to his staff over the summer: Employees would be prohibited from cohabiting with their significant others unless they were "officially married according to the law and word of God."

Kersey specified that the policy change would be effective immediately.

"It will be prohibited for you to live with another while employed at the Scotland County Sheriff's Office unless you are officially married according to the law and word of God, sisters, brothers, or family by blood," he instructed his staff in a memo.

The sheriff exempted those who were already cohabiting, but decreed that "if your current relationship with the other party should cease, you will comply with the new policy change."

Not long after that memo, Kersey suddenly changed his mind.

It wasn't clear what prompted the decision.

"In July of 2019 I did send a text out to all employees at our office that a policy change was being made to include Cohabitation," he wrote in an email. "However, after careful consideration I decided to not make that policy change."

The initial cohabitation policy change was first unearthed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a non-profit group that fights for the separation of Church and State.

The FFRF announced Wednesday that it had written to the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office "requesting that it rescind this blatantly unconstitutional policy and immediately cease its enforcement."

"The sheriff's office cannot endorse any religion and should not issue religiously discriminatory policies to be enforced against its employees," the group wrote.

Such a policy could be used to discriminate against same-sex couples, couples that are not religious, or even couples that did not marry in a house of worship aligned with Kersey's beliefs. It could also prohibit two or more non-romantic friends from living together as roommates.

"By instating a policy that limits employees' behavior outside of work to that which you deem to be 'according to the law and word of God,' your office unconstitutionally promoted religion and threatens to punish those who believe differently," FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote in a letter to Kersey earlier in October.

Though Kersey said he rescinded the policy change, he did not specify when. However, he did address FFRF's letter, writing, "We are now in the mid month of October and this is surfacing and if Freedom of Religion had [done] their homework they would know this..."

Kersey did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about his decision to rescind the cohabitation policy.

The Friendly Atheist blog noted this week that Kersey has frequently used official sheriff's office social media accounts to spread religious messages, including Christian Bible quotes.

Kersey has been sheriff of the 36,800-person Scotland County, loacted near the state's southern border, since the 2014 elections. He was narrowly re-elected last November.

Published with permission of The American Independent.