Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Jason Clayworth at The Des Moines Register wrote a piece about a proclamation that Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed encouraging Iowans to participate in a public reading of the Bible which of course has the atheists and freedom from religion folks in a tizzy.

Clayworth writes:

Gov. Terry Branstad’s proclamation that encourages Iowans to take part in a statewide county courthouse Bible reading marathon violates the U.S. Constitution by promoting Christianity, three groups allege.

Two of those groups — the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Freedom From Religion Foundation — said they were reviewing the matter with an eye toward litigation against the state.

“The government is supposed to be neutral toward religion,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group.

She continued: “Can you imagine the uproar if the governor used state resources to encourage people to go to a ‘God is Dead’ rally or a vigil to review how divisive religion is? Everyone can see how inappropriate that would be. This is exactly the same type of violation.”

The prayer events are being organized by several Christian-based groups: the Iowa Prayer Caucus, the National Governor’s Prayer Team and the United States Prayer Council. The Iowa events are planned at all 100 county courthouses, some with prayers every 15 minutes from June 30 through July 3.

Branstad in April signed a proclamation “in the name and by the authority of the state of Iowa,” calling the event historic. The proclamation encourages Iowans to participate in the events and “to read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.”

These groups were strangely silent when Branstad signed an Iowa Muslim Day proclamation in 2014 and 2015. Heck he also signed a Day of Reason proclamation. The National Day of Reason was established by the American Humanists Association. He has also signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.

Branstad signs hundreds of proclamations every year.

Clayworth’s article entitled “Is Branstad’s Bible proclamation unconstitutional?” No. A proclamation from a governor encouraging people to read the Bible can’t be considered “establishing a religion.” It doesn’t also compel anyone to participate. A proclamation is not a law and does not have the force of law. A proclamation like this doesn’t even use state resources unless you count the time it took to type, print and sign the document along with the paper it was printed on.

So if this proclamation is unconstitutional so are the Muslim Day and the Day of Reason proclamations which they’re not.

Clayworth cited the Lemon Test that posed three questions where if answered affirmatively a violation could occur.

  1. Does the government action have a secular purpose?
  2. Does the government action have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion?
  3. Does the government action foster an excessive entanglement between government and religion?

That is cherry picking one case, Lemon v. Kurtzman, that was decided in 1971 that struck down Pennsylvania’s Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Act that allowed the state to reimburse private schools for teacher salaries.  The court’s decision also upheld a circuit court decision striking down a similar law in Rhode Island.

This ignores the numerous Supreme Court decisions that have upheld religious invocations to open legislative session, government funding of bussing and textbooks for private religious schools, and efforts by school districts to arrange schedules to accommodate students’ extra-curricular religious education programs.

Also most cases that the Supreme Court have dealt with are laws, use of public funds or use of public land. I highly doubt they would give a Governor’s proclamation, that is practically meaningless, the time of day.

Basically Clayworth wrote this piece because atheists are offended. So be offended. Being offended doesn’t mean one’s constitutional rights are being trampled on. Since this does not compel an atheist to participate or use taxpayer money the question of it’s constitutionality is moot.

3 comments
  1. There’s a difference between a day of acknowledgement and calling for people to come to a public building for the sake of a single religion. Along with the calling to read a specific religious text. If they want to do it somewhere else fine by me. By exercising his powers in a way that clearly gives preference to one religious over the others is unconstitutional.

  2. It violates their rights by promoting christianity over all other religions. Look at it this way. What if the proclamation encouraged everyone to read the quran. Imagine the outrage, and rightly so. Governments should remain neutral on religion and not get involved. It’s better for everyone.

    This is the type of tyranny the 1st amendment was meant to prevent.

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