NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Middle Tennessee district attorney, facing criticism for expressing doubt about whether Muslims and LGBT individuals are entitled to legal protections, says his critics are trying to infringe upon his religious rights.
Craig Northcott's argument came during a court hearing in which the attorney for student activist Justin Jones unsuccessfully tried to get the Coffee County DA disqualified as a special prosecutor.
"It's constitutionally repugnant what they are trying to do," Northcott told Davidson County General Sessions Judge Dianne Turner.
"They are trying to impose on me a religious and political test for serving in my office, for conducting my job.... Everything you heard them arguing just now was they don't like my theological and political beliefs."
Judge Turner noted that Northcott "took an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Tennessee and the Constitution."
"Absolutely," the DA answered, "and I have done that with integrity for the last five years."
Northcott has faced increased scrutiny since his appointment back in May as a special prosecutor in the Jones case. Justin Jones was arrested for assault and disorderly conduct after allegedly throwing a cup with some sort of liquid into an elevator with House Speaker Glen Casada and other lawmakers during a protest.
In the days that followed, it was revealed that the DA had posted comments on Facebook stating that Muslims do not have constitutional rights because they don't believe in "the one true God."
A video later surfaced in which Northcott said he did not use the state's domestic violence laws to protect LGBT individuals because his faith does not allow him to recognize their relationships.
In another Facebook post, the prosecutor took aim in a Facebook post at NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem, calling it an "attack on Christianity."
Jones' attorney, Nick Leonardo, told the judge that "it's his inability to follow the law and the oath that he has taken" that creates the appearance of impropriety.
The student activist was protesting what he views as the state's discriminatory policies when he was arrested.
"This case is every bit about free speech," Leonardo said.
"This case is every bit about race and equality and marginalized populations. And with those sorts of views, judge, it's impossble for Mr. Jones to get a fair trial."
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Lawyers Sunny Eaton and Kevin Teets asked Turner for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of some 350 attorneys who have asked the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to review whether Northcott is competent to practice law.
Judge Turner, however, said she believed that she did not have the authority to remove a prosecutor unless there were questions about the validity of the person's law license.
Nashville DA Glenn Funk's office had asked for the special prosecutor after NewsChannel 5 Investigates raised questions about a screenshot that Casada's office submitted in an attempt to get Jones re-arrested for violating a court order to stay away from Casada.
The screenshot had a date which appeared to have been altered to show that it had been sent after the court order was imposed.
Leonardo complained that Northcott had not asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to review the emails and had concluded on his own there was no crime.
"Apparently, he called the parties and asked the parties if they did. They said 'no,' then it's 'case closed,' Leonardo said.
Northcott said he had talked to legislative IT personnel and was convinced the problem was created by the email getting caught in a spam filter.
"There's no crime, there's no proof of crime, it was a simple mistake, it was an honest mistake that was corrected immediately upon it being found out," Northcott said.
He did not explain several discrepancies that appear between the orginal email and the screenshot provided to prosecutors by Casada's office.
"I can't help the misinformation and frankly lies that have been disseminated by the media in this. I can't change that," Northcott said.
Jones' case was continued until August 15th.
View NewsChannel 5's full investigation: