Faith. Family. Freedom. That's how Blount County Sheriff Mark Moon lives his life.
Throughout the nearly four years he has been sheriff, Moon has remained steadfast in his beliefs and has stood firm in the face of those working against those beliefs. Whether it was pushing back from government control during an unprecedented pandemic or voicing his support of the Constitution during the debate of Alabama's permitless carry bill, Moon has been a strong voice nationwide.
"It has its ups and down," said Moon. "We've had some successes, we've had some setbacks, we've had good days and bad days. But for the most part, I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve the people. I grew up here. I am glad to be able to serve my home."
With a population of nearly 58,000, Blount County is similar in size to Russell, Autauga and Colbert Counties. It sits southwest of Guntersville and northeast of Birmingham.
Moon grew up in Cleveland, where he graduated in 1996. He tried football at UAB but soon realized that route was not for him to take.
He went into the military and, while still deployed, decided to look for jobs in law enforcement.
When he became sheriff in January of 2019, there were many challenges Moon did not expect. Social justice issues and a global pandemic were on the horizon. Through it all, Moon stayed transparent and honest, and that's why he is known as the "what you see is what you get" sheriff.
Moon is not afraid to comment on his truth, and he will not back down on tough issues.
As a servant, Moon has experience in law enforcement and the military. In fact, he is still in the Alabama National Guard and is a Military Police (MP) instructor at Ft. McClellan. In everything he does, he said he puts God first.
Moon has been in ministry for 24 years. He is currently an associate pastor at Redeemed Ministry, which started with putting a focus on helping addicts get through their struggles via faith. The church of around 400 regular attendees now has members from all walks of life.
"I have been there just about a year to the day, just a little over," said Moon. "They had so many people that weren't struggling with addiction that they wanted me to come to be there for them. I prayed about that very, very hard, and it was a hard decision for me and my family. It was the hardest thing in ministry I've ever done. My main mission there is really to minister to families."
The hardest thing about making that decision, Moon said, was leaving the church where he had been for five years prior, County Line Baptist Church.
The ministry experience, mixed with being a law enforcement officer, has helped Moon speak to those in some of the darkest times of their lives. He said he prays with inmates, and his faith makes it easier for him to help them. It's more than putting someone in jail. It's also getting them help physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In 2019, Moon made headlines after hosting a prayer vigil at Cleveland High School. The vigil was to pray for the county after violent incidents occurred. The Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue the county, so Moon stepped back from the vigil in a professional capacity. Instead of the sheriff's office hosting the event, he stepped up in a public way as a pastor in the community to put on the event and pray for the people in his county.
Moon and his wife Kelly have three children, Collin, Jon Caden and Mollie. As parents, the Moon power couple works together to make it all work.
"She is absolutely an amazing woman," Moon said of his wife. "Not only as a teacher but as a mom, she does everything."
The family attends church every Sunday, and Moon is often asked to speak in different locations.
"To keep my children in church is the top priority for me," said Moon. "Obviously, we try our best to instill in our children faith at home. We try to make sure that we're doing the things at home, that we're not just doing it on Sunday but every day and live it out loud in front of them."
Moon said faith defines his family.
"It really has to start with a relationship with the Lord first," said Moon. "Then developing those relationships at church."
Being in law enforcement ran in the family for Moon. His father is a retired police officer. Moon started looking for jobs in the occupation in 2004 when he was deployed to Iraq. He was on that deployment from 2003 until 2005, working convoy support. He returned and started work with the Blount County Sheriff's Office in December 2006. He has worked as a patrol deputy, a school resource officer and his final position as a deputy was in narcotics. As a deputy, he was sent back overseas in 2011. For that deployment, he served in Afghanistan.
From the time he became a deputy, Moon said he knew he wanted to do more.
"When I first started years ago, I was a firm believer in having career goals," Moon said. "So, when I first started, my career goals were to make sergeant, make it into investigations, then one day when I got ready to retire to run for sheriff."
But it was sooner than later that he ran for sheriff after he said his faith led him to do so. He said he fought the idea for some time, putting up walls and coming up with excuses not to run.
"I honestly felt the Lord directing my path to do that at the time," said Moon. "I was running as fast as I could, and I ran from my calling for two years … I couldn't get peace in my spirit about some things, such as the direction of the department."
He said that after God broke down those walls, Moon said everything fell into place.
When it was time to announce his run for sheriff to his congregation at County Line Baptist Church, Moon said the response was breathtaking.
"You would've thought that Alabama had scored a touchdown," said Moon. "That church went crazy. It was so funny, and people immediately came up with support."
Since becoming sheriff, Moon has made strong statements and has stuck to his guns (no pun intended) when it comes to constitutional carry and the state's COVID-19 response. His opinions and decisions on those issues have led to him being on TV and radio nationwide.
When Gov. Kay Ivey handed down an executive order closing non-essential businesses and churches, Moon said he would not enforce the order. He closed his front office and took precautions in the jail but did not ask his deputies to ticket or jail people for defying the order.
"After a couple of months, I realized there was more to this," said Moon. "I wasn't sure if I had the answers, but I did know that we couldn't stop everything we were doing and shut down our lives. That's when I made the decision that I was not going to send my deputies out to close businesses and tell people to put a mask on. That is not our job."
Moon said when it came to shutting down businesses, he got a lot of support from people. He booked interviews on conservative radio shows in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and other states. But it wasn't long before the tide changed.
"I had a lot of support from all over the country when I said I wasn't going to enforce the governor's shut down mandate," said Moon. "But as soon as the governor put in the mask mandate, my phone started blowing up. I told people, 'Look, I don't have the personnel nor the desire to tell people they've got to wear a diaper on their face. I'm not doing it.' So, there was no way, even if I wanted to, that I could enforce that. And boy, let me tell you, I took some heat!"
Moon said supporters of a mask mandate called him from states such as California and Tennessee and east coast states to tell him how bad his choices were.
Brandon Gallups, who has been friends with and pastored alongside Moon, said he was thankful to have a sheriff with a backbone.
"He was the first sheriff in the state of Alabama to come out against the governor on all of the shutdown orders and everything," Gallups said. "He took a lot of heat for it … I loved that he did that because I thought the same thing he did. I don't think the government should tell me when I can go to church and when I can leave my house."
Gallups said it was amazing to have a sheriff stand up for what was right.
"I would say that 99% of this county loves Mark Moon," said Gallups. "You always have haters, but he ran unopposed this time, and that's incredible. He is a sheriff of the people."
Another issue Moon has gained support and criticism over is Second Amendment rights.
Earlier this year, when the State Legislature was considering a bill to allow for permitless carry in Alabama, Moon said he was one of two sheriffs in the state that voiced support for the bill.
"Me and Cullman County's Matt Gentry were like the black sheep," said Gentry, "I'm not going to take money as a driving force behind what's right."
Moon said he could not justify charging people for their rights as a follower of the U.S. Constitution. He said although the sheriff's office has already seen a drastic drop in permits, it is not the people's fault. He said paying for rights should have never been a source of income.
SEE ALSO: Counties claim loss in revenue from permitless 'constitutional' carry months before law takes effect
"Our sales already went from about $3,000 a month, or maybe a little bit more, to less than $1,000 a month," Moon explained. "It will drastically affect the equipment that we have and makes our deputies safer and make the county safer. But regardless, I was adamant. I'm a member of BamaCarry. I was adamant about believing we shouldn't be required to pay a fee to protect yourself or your family or someone else that may be in need."
Moon has continued to work with Sheriff Gentry and, with his help, started the annual Sheriff's Rodeo in Blount County. He hopes proceeds from the event can help compensate for some of the loss from permit sales.
The Alabama permitless carry law does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023.
As far as being sheriff, Moon said he realizes how important the job is.
"The sheriff is a constitutional officer, and the main responsibility is to make sure constitutional rights are protected in every county," said Moon.
There is a quote from Ronald Reagan on the Blount County Sheriff's Office website: "If we ever forget we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under."
Moon said all over the country, law enforcement officers face the same issues, including being shorthanded and underpaid. With 49 employees on the sheriff's department side of the business and 25 on the jail side, Moon said even with the Blount County Commission giving nearly half its revenue to the sheriff's office, it can be challenging.
"There's a lot of people that hate law enforcement, and there's a lot of people that have impossible expectations of law enforcement, especially when they don't understand the financial grips of funding," Moon explained.
The nation's policies and politics also impact the sheriff's office, Moon said.
"Obviously, with the open borders and the way things are right now in our country, crime rates are rising all over the country," Moon said. "We can only do so much because our hands are tied based off the law and how things have to be done."
Because of social injustice issues across the nation, Moon said the hiring process is much more tedious than it used to be. He said while law enforcement should be held to a higher standard, sometimes he feels the standards placed on them are impossible.
Another challenge for Moon is social media.
"If you don't like something now, you can just get on social media and blast them," said Moon. "I get tagged in everything. It puts more pressure on me and more pressure on my guys, and that's okay. But the truth is, I have one deputy covering each of the four districts in our county."
Moon said the 911 call volume had increased exponentially in the past five years. With more people needing the sheriff's office, the sheriff has vowed to continue to improve his efforts.
"Our job is to change people's lives and to help people," said Moon. "I still believe we have the greatest opportunity in what we do to have the greatest impact on people because there are people that are hurting and people that need some hope. I like to take those opportunities. I hope I do.
"I'm not perfect at work, I'm not perfect in church, but my main goal is to please God and do all I can do."
Gallups said Moon is practicing what he's preaching.
"Basically, with Mark, what you see is what you get," said Gallups. "He loves people to a fault. He's just a genuine guy. I'm not saying he's perfect, but he loves the Lord, he loves his family, and he loves his country."
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