A Tennessee district attorney is patently unfit for office and unfit to hold a top post in the state DA association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation contends.
Several Tennesseans have alerted FFRF, a state/church watchdog, to alarming statements and public admissions by Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott. He is using a government office to promote his personal religion, discriminating in the administration of justice (by his own admission), spreading mistruths and generally bringing the office he temporarily occupies into disrepute.
“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel writes to Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell. “Promoting one’s personal religion using a government office and title gives the impression that the government supports and endorses Northcott’s religious message — a message of Christian nationalism.”
Northcott has admitted to failing to provide equal protection under the law, FFRF points out. In the course of a 2018 pastors' conference, Northcott made it clear that, when administering justice in Coffee County, he discriminates by disparately enforcing the law against LGBTQ residents. Northcott explained in response to a question that he refuses to honor the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell in his role as DA and doesn’t recognize domestic violence if it occurs in an LGBTQ relationship. But despite Northcott’s claim to the contrary, prosecutorial discretion “is not unfettered” and in particular, the decision to prosecute may not be deliberately based upon an unjustifiable standard such as “race, religion or other arbitrary classification,” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.
In response to a question about imposing the death penalty for first degree murder, Northcott also explained that he uses “God’s standard” as a guide. “God’s standard” is entirely irrelevant to the state’s determination of who to execute, FFRF emphasizes. This is a gross violation of his public duty, and since he is chair of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference’s Committee on Capital Punishment, is a particularly egregious breach.
Northcott, who has sworn to uphold the Constitution and the rights it enshrines, repeatedly claims our rights come from God. But rights are not bestowed; rights are asserted. Our secular Constitution asserts certain human rights and never mentions God. Northcott, who as DA swore to defend these rights, admits to violating them instead.
Northcott has made many pro-Christian, anti-Muslim comments on his official District Attorney Facebook page. At the pastors' conference, he characterized “atheism, humanism, Muslims,” as “others” and “the enemy” and as a group that is supposedly “chomping at the bit to take over our government.” Northcott’s open bias casts doubt on every criminal prosecution of a non-Christian or LGBTQ resident under his watch, FFRF emphasizes. He is a Christian nationalist who openly views non-Christians as his enemy and as such is unfit for his DA position and should resign or be removed, as well as be immediately stripped of all his Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference responsibilities, FFRF insists.
“DA Northcott has impermissibly crossed the constitutional line over and over again,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This is a grossly discriminatory use of his office and cannot be tolerated.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit with more than 31,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including over 400 and a chapter in Tennessee. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church, and educates the public about matters related to nontheism.