Why do Christian politicians think they can use their public offices to promote their personal religions? Imagine a Muslim mayor telling citizens to “Consider the hope offered by Allah” or “It is Allah’s way we seek.”
In the last month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation received complaints about several politicians promoting their personal religion while speaking as a government representative.
Wisconsin state representative Scott Allen recorded a message of himself, in the state capitol, quoting bible verses and encouraging all non-Christians to “consider the hope offered by the Prince of Peace.”
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, also from Wisconsin, said on his government website, “on behalf of the whole House” that “[i]t took courage for God to humble Himself. He came down from heaven and became a man . . . it is God’s way we seek.”
Georgia State Senator Bill Heath emailed a newsletter to constituents, with the State of Georgia seal, that included ten bible verses and stated:
the fact is that Jesus was born just as predicted in the Old Testament, centuries before his birth. God sent His son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, be crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by God that all who believe in Him might have everlasting life . . . . As you ponder the miraculous birth of our Lord if you have never shared the real purpose for celebrating Christmas consider these verses about the birth of Christ.
All three politicians undeniably endorsed Christianity while acting in their official capacity, speaking as if Christian mythology were true as a matter of fact. Two of the three directly called for converts. And they used the machinery of the state—government studios, websites, and email—to send their proselytizing messages.
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Public officials hold the most powerful positions in our society: They legislate, tax and send us to war. With the power to make major decisions on behalf of millions, our elected officials should strive for inclusiveness. Calling for citizens to convert to their personal religion is divisive and conveys a message that members of their religion are favored constituents.
This country’s founders sought to prevent government from getting in bed with religion, which is why our Bill of Rights begins with the beautiful words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In short, keep religion out of government, and pray on your own time and dime.
Allen, Ryan, and Heath flagrantly promoted Christianity on behalf of the government. It’s not a minor violation. It’s a direct affront to Americans’ constitutional right to be free from a government that favors religion over nonreligion.
Opposing this principle should be political suicide no less than opposing free speech. However, the sad reality is that disregarding the Establishment Clause—in other words, pandering—is good politics in this country. It’s easy to miss the problem with an officially favored religion when you believe in that religion.
But this trend could change; indeed it may be changing. Nearly 30% of American adults are non-Christians, and younger people are fleeing Christianity like never before: about 44% of millennials are non-Christian. Millennials too seldom tell their elected representatives that endorsing Christianity will cost them votes, but at least the numbers are promising.
Additionally, some liberal Christians are growing weary of the science-denying, gay-marriage-bashing variety of fundamentalist Christianity that has become politically prominent. They, too, should be insisting that their representatives leave religious sermons to their private lives.
FFRF will continue to fight against politicians who abuse their government office to promote their personal religion, but the problem will not go away until voters make preaching politically unpopular. Please help us by telling pious politicians to, as FFRF Co-President Dan Barker has oft insisted, “get off your knees and get to work!”