KISSEMMEE, Fla. (CBS Tampa) – Bibles in court? An Osceola County judge is under criticism for offering Bibles to criminal defendants reports News 13 Orlando.

Judge Hal Epperson’s conduct was rapped by local attorneys in a survey of their views of the county court system by the by the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

One attorney had some very biting comments. “To, in open court, offer criminal defendants who, at his will, could serve years in jail any endorsement of any religion…erodes the trust of the justice system that those of differing faiths have,” wrote the unnamed respondent.

Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry told the Orlando Sentinel that he had spoken to Epperson, and the Bible handout “is no longer in existence.”

Perry said Epperson put “a small box” of New Testament Gideon Bibles on the table in his courtroom where defendants retrieve their paperwork after appearing before the judge.

“Basically, when that small box ran out, which is months ago, it was never replaced,” Perry said.

He added thaat there “was no pressure or direction placed upon” the defendants who appeared in Epperson’s courtroom to take a Bible.

However, the attorney in the survey wrote Epperson “verbally” offered the bibles, a practice the lawyer called “very troubling.”

“A judge, like all people, is free to believe or not believe in any god they wish,” the lawyer wrote. However, “a judge must not only be impartial, fair and even-handed… but they must also give the appearance of such.”

Asked if it’s appropriate for a judge to distribute Bibles to defendants, Perry replied: “As you know, we have a separation of church and state in this country.”

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