Scott Herndon’s First Involvement in Law and Politics as a Bonner County jail chaplain.

Scott Herndon’s first involvement in law and politics, besides voting, was accidental. Scott and his wife Arlene and their several children at the time had built their house in Sagle in the mid-2000’s and were raising their young children while Scott ran his new construction business. A friend who is another local Sandpoint area business owner from church called Scott to ask if he was interested in ministering to inmates at the Bonner County jail. HerndonĀ  readily agreed.

Running the book cart on Wednesdays and ministering church services at the jail on Sundays twice a month helped Scott become acquainted with many of the Bonner County jail inmates. At the time, one was awaiting trial on charges of first degree murder, and in the course of his case a court order was issued finding him “dangerously mentally ill” and arranged transfer of the inmate to the Idaho maximum security prison for evaluation. It was the opinion of several of the volunteer chaplains that the inmate was not actually mentally ill, but on research Herndon noted that in order to take the legal route the state was pursuing, Idaho law required a specific series of procedures and findings, many of which the inmate claimed never happened. (An evaluation by the Idaho Department of Corrections subsequently vindicated the chaplains’ judgment by finding that the inmate was indeed not mentally ill).

Of course there was the possibility the inmate was not entirely truthful, but Herndon and another volunteer chaplain felt the potential violation of law was at least worthy of an inquiry to the judge in the case. Upon writing a letter to the judge, Herndon’s chaplain privileges were stripped by then Bonner County sheriff Elaine Savage.

It didn’t seem logical to Herndon that a chaplain had to relinquish their right to free speech in order to be a minister at the jail. Surely if an inmate was being unjustly beaten or mistreated by a jail employee there would be constitutional protection for a chaplain who spoke out? Months later, after an election and a change in sheriff, local Sandpoint attorneys were so compelled by the circumstances of the case that they offered to assist Herndon in resolving the matter. Upon illumination of the circumstances of the case, the new Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and the county’s in-house legal counsel, at minimal expense, determined that the law did protect Scott Herndon’s ability to speak out while also continuing his service as a volunteer chaplain. The Wheeler administration agreed to vigorously protect the constitutional rights of chaplains, and Herndon resumed a more than five year career as a Bonner County jail chaplain.

Scott Herndon said of the matter “Until that time in my life I never really understood that the way we keep the American Republic and the rights of the federal and state constitutions is our active participation in safeguarding them as citizens. Sometimes that means we have to speak out and challenge our own government when it is not diligently watching out for us.”

In this case, Herndon was diligent to safeguard the rights of disfavored minorities by speaking out for the due process of a person accused of a violent crime, and then Herndon separately defended a chaplain’s right to free speech.

Scott Herndon will safeguard all of our constitutional protections regardless of where any of us are on the political spectrum and in our political ideology. “The Constitution of the United States and the Idaho Constitution apply to all of us in Idaho, and I will work diligently to represent your constitutional interests as your representative in the Idaho State Senate”, said Herndon.

For more information on this story from Bonner County history, you can read this story here.