The Freedom From Religion Foundation has brought to an end a Louisiana sheriff's sermonizing over the department's official social media.
A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal regularly invoked Christian scripture in his official statements as sheriff, statements that were reflected on the Washington Parish Sheriff's official Facebook page.
Recent examples included:
- Sept. 14, 2015: A statement about Seal holding a prayer ceremony, "The only hope society has is the blessed Hope given to us by God through His Son." And, "It is our duty as a Christian nation to constantly petition that Hope, our Savior ..." The post also directly quotes Psalms 145:18, Philippians 4:6, and 2 Chronicles 7:14.
- Dec. 22, 2016: "Many centuries ago, the Jewish prophet Isaiah said, 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.' (Isaiah 9:6 KJV) That prophecy was fulfilled hundreds of years later with the birth of Jesus, and it is His birth that we celebrate during this Christmas season."
- April 16, 2017: "Around the world today Christians unite to celebrate the sacrifice and resurrection of our Savior Jesus."
- The cover photo for the page, as of June 15, 2017, stated, "Lord when I sit in the chair of leadership, please do not let it be said that the chair is still empty."
Posting religious images and messages gives the appearance that the Sheriff's Department endorses religion in general and Christianity in particular, FFRF asserted.
"The Supreme Court has long recognized that the First Amendment 'mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'" FFRF Constitutional Attorney and Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel wrote to Seal last June. "The Supreme Court has also held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion, specifically stating, 'If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.' Your statements, and the posts promoting Christianity on the Washington Parish Sheriff Office's social media page, fail to respect the Constitution's mandate of neutrality."
As sheriff, Seal serves a diverse population that consists not only of Christians, but also atheists and agnostics who do not believe in religion or prayer. Seal's endorsement of Christianity alienates non-Christians and nonbelievers in Washington Parish by turning them into political outsiders in their own community, FFRF contended, and asked that the religious postings be removed.
The Washington Parish Sheriff's Office read FFRF's message clearly. The department's legal counsel recently informed FFRF that the bible verses and highly religious posts have been deleted from the official Facebook page.
"Governmental social media should not be used to propagate a public official's private religious beliefs," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're pleased that we were able to stop this troublingly unconstitutional impulse."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 30,000 members across the country, including in Louisiana. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to represent the views of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers).