Florida Sheriff's Website Draws Liberal Fire

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - A flap is brewing in Florida over whether a county sheriff can use a taxpayer funded Internet web site to publish personal comments that are critical of court decisions on school prayer and abortion, the homosexual movement and Planned Parenthood.

The controversy centers on Lee County Sheriff John McDougall and the opinions included in his discourse entitled Judicial Tyranny, which is published on the sheriff's department's official Internet site.

Among the sheriff's opinions are that abortion and the militant homosexual movement are among what he called "the diabolical forces of moral corruption."

"To our disgrace as a nation, we have caved in to the wishes of the depraved, and have allowed them to systematically exclude God from our midst," wrote McDougall.

The sheriff's writings caught the attention of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, whose chairman, Ray Judah, sought a ruling on the appropriateness of using a taxpayer funded web site to publish such commentary.

In an analysis of McDougall's use of the department's website for personal opinions, Lee County Attorney James G. Yeager wrote that Florida state law demands that "no public officer shall corruptly use his or her official position or any property or resource which is within his or her trust, to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself, herself or others."

Yeager did not render an opinion on whether McDougall's use of the sheriff's department website to publish personal opinions was corrupt or designed to secure any special benefit.

However, Yeager did remind local officials that the sheriff's office is "outside the regulatory jurisdiction of the Board," and that the commissioners don't have "the legal authority to intrude into his internal matters or interpret his internal rules and regulations on equipment use."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has raised questions about McDougall's comments being posted on the Internet, with ACLU-Florida Executive Director Howard Simon calling the sheriff's published remarks "distressing," in a local newspaper report.

Among the issues and organizations singled out in McDougall's commentary is the pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood, which he denounced for "distributing free condoms to our children, thereby encouraging dangerous pre-marital adolescent sexuality under the pretense of 'Safe Sex for minors.' Those of us in law enforcement, call this behavior 'pedophilia.'"

The controversy over the Lee County sheriff's website comes as the art exhibit 'Sensation' opens at a New York City museum. Critics of the art show, which includes a painting of the Virgin Mary splattered with elephant feces and photographs of human genitalia, have questioned whether the use of tax dollars to fund or display such work is appropriate.

When asked about the difference between McDougall's use of an official Internet site to publish criticism of abortion and the homosexual movement, and the use of tax dollars for an art show with work critical of Christian icons, an official with the Lee County Attorney's Office who asked not to be identified chuckled and said "that's a good question, but we don't get into that here."

Officials with the Lee County Sheriff's Office told CNSNews.com that McDougall would not be available for comment until next week, and dozens of attempts to contact the Florida ACLU office in Miami were unsuccessful, with the phone line indicating that it was perpetually busy Friday morning.