KNOXVILLE, Tenn (WATE) – Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said the city of Knoxville has been asked to remove a plaque that has been on display at the Knoxville Safety Building for nearly 50 years.

The plaque references to Romans 8:31 in the Bible saying, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?.” Mayor Rogero said the verse is displayed in an area where members of the public do not normally go. She said the city has been asked to remove the plaque by the East Tennessee Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin.

The organization sent three letters to city leaders, the most recent on June 24 with a deadline that if the sign was not removed, the issue would be sent to attorneys. It was initially discovered by the organization when one of their members went to the Knoxville Police Department to give a statement regarding witnessing a car accident.

Former Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith says the plaque has a rich history in the department.

“The chief back in the early 70s. He put that sign up in 1971 not as a religious statement, but as a motivator to officers who face the perils of the streets. Let them know that it’s not just their own strength, but a superior strength behind them.”

“I don’t know what brought the display of this verse to their attention, but they objected to it on constitutional grounds. After reviewing the complaint and case law surrounding similar issues across the country, our law department determined that this display of this Bible verse does cross a clearly established line regarding government promotion of religion,” said Rogero.

After consulting with the city of Knoxville’s law director, Charles Swanson, Mayor Rogero said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch informed his staff that the plaque would be removed from its current spot.

“This is not an attack on religion, per se. This is a way to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” said Aleta Ledendecker the president of FFRF East Tennessee Chapter.

“I know that people both inside and outside city government are upset with the ending of this tradition. As a person of faith, I understand the respect, the passion that people feel on this issue. As a Christian, I am thankful for other Christians that feel their faith so strongly that they want to share it with the world and I respect people of other faiths feels the same,” said Rogero.

Rogero said she also recognizes that a Bible verse that gives some strength and comfort may send an entirely different message to someone else. She said it may make them feel that they are not welcome. Though when asked about fighting the possible lawsuit Mayor Rogero says, “If I thought we had a leg to stand on, we would spend the money.”

She said the city has come up with a solution to still be able to display the plaque. He suggested creating a “hall of inspiration” at the safety building where employees can display quotes and proverbs from many different religions. She said the plaque will be moved to the hall.

“Can you imagine how Christians would feel if they walked in and there, instead of a Christian plaque there was a plaque of Islam or Judaism? How would they feel? Well this must be a police department that favors one religion over others,” added Ledendecker.

“I think it’s a slap in the face. It’ll take the officers a while to deal with it,” said Keith.

Speaking to Knoxville Police Department officers, Rogero said, “As mayor I am so grateful for your service and the sacrifice that goes with it. You are out there every single day keeping us safe and putting yourself on the line for the people of Knoxville. I know the announcement yesterday raised troubling questions for many of you and I want to assure you that this has nothing to do with restricting anyone’s individual expression or faith. We are all so very fortunate to have so many officers on our staff that draw daily strength from the foundation of their own faith and I want to thank all of you for your service.”

City leaders say they know of no other complaints regarding this sign.

“It’s a thread taken out of our memory. It’s a thread taken out of our custom and practice. I don’t think there’s any offense meant by it,” said Keith.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” added Ledendecker.

“It is a tough, emotional decision, as it’s been stated. But it is the right decision and we certainly understand that,” said Chief Rausch.

Rogero pointed out that this is the second time the Freedom of Religion Foundation has objected to items with the city of Knoxville in recent months. The foundation sent a letter to the city with objections to a plan to give a portion of unused land owned by the city to the Emerald Youth Foundation for a youth sports complex.

“In that case we reviewed their complaint and determined we can proceed with that partnership in a way that does not raise any constitutional issues,” said Rogero.

City leaders say this is not a restriction on an individual’s right to express their faith. Swanson says there’s a factual difference other courts have found using the phrase ‘In God We Trust.’

“The cases that have deal with that said, the In God We Trust statement, it has such a long history of use in our country that it has almost lost the particular religion promotional aspect to it,” he said.

Bishop Richard F. Stika of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville released a statement:

“Yet again, we have evidence of how our religious freedom is increasingly being eroded in our country and becoming a second-class right. Since 1969, when the department’s building was dedicated, the verse from Romans 8:31, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us,’ has been a message of hope to officers every day as they prepare to go out on the streets to serve and protect. On the surface, the words are simple. But they are also words that inspire a selfless sense of duty and courage in the face of adversity. In these times of growing conflict and threat, who would want to deny such words of inspiration to those who put their lives on the line every day?”