A member of the Iowa House of Representatives was told this week that he was violating the constitution by including a Bible verse in the signature line of his legislative email.
State Representative Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) finished his second session in the Iowa House of Representatives. In 2016, he convincingly won a three-way Republican primary in Iowa House District 4, a seat left open when former State Representative John Kooiker (R-Boyden) announced he was not running for re-election. Wheeler then easily won the general election against one of his primary opponents who launched an independent campaign.
The 25-year-old state legislator is a recent graduate of Northwestern College in Orange City and member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Orange City. He had every intention to exercise his Christian worldview upon arriving in Des Moines and was very open about it.
“I am running for the Iowa House because I believe in continuing the fight to advance, promote and defend Christian conservative principles in Des Moines. I am a full-spectrum conservative who will defend the positions that matter most to Fourth District voters,” Wheeler told Caffeinated Thoughts in an interview when he was running for office in April of 2016
“My worldview begins with the Bible and taking it in its literal form. Using the Bible as my compass, I come to conclusions that life is precious, marriage is one natural man and one natural woman, taxes should not be overbearing, and the government’s job is to reward those who abide by the law and punish those who do not. As a state legislator, I will use the Bible as my starting point for making decisions on what legislation I should support and which I should oppose,” he added.
Wheeler’s worldview has guided his decision-making on legislation he supports, like the recent fetal heartbeat bill and a push to allow bible literacy classes in public school to be one of the few who opposed a law that allowed Iowa’s craft distillers to sell individual drinks on their premises.
One of the practices he implemented was to include a Bible verse in the signature line of his legislative email. He quotes Acts 16:31 in part, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” (KJV).
On Wednesday, he received a complaint from Colin McNamara, a legal fellow from the Freedom From Religion Foundation located in Madison, WI.
McNamara wrote that he was writing on behalf of the organization “in regards to a constitutional violation involving official email communications to your constituents.”
He said they received a complaint from one of his constituents and they requested that Wheeler remove it from his email signature.
The Foundation’s purposes, according to their website, “are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.”
“I’ve included this verse in my email signature since I took office,” Wheeler told Caffeinated Thoughts. “I’ve had correspondence with judges, local elected officials, the governor’s office and fellow legislators. If this were an issue, it would have surfaced before this.”
McNamara told Caffeinated Thoughts that they recieved over 5000 complaints in 2017 and sent approximately 1200 letters to government officials across the country. “This particular issue was fairly commonly reported and written on, though certainly not in the top ten,” he said.
He said they have seen success as a result.
For instance, in 2010, they convinced the McKinley Independent School District in Texas to order a high school teacher to stop including a Bible verse in his district email. In 2016, an employee in the district attorney’s office in Eau Claire, WI removed a reference to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 from her email signature after they contacted her office manager.
Freedom From Religion Foundation believes they are upholding the First Amendment, but religious freedom advocates see their efforts as just a way to intimidate people of faith.
“Intimidation tactics like this one are all too common in the Left’s current assault on religious freedom. The right to practice one’s religion freely is not restricted to houses of worship, as groups like Freedom From Religion try to tell us, nor is it a right that citizens forfeit when they serve the public as a government official. FFR has not demonstrated that Rep. Wheeler has in any way failed in his duty to give ‘neutral and respectful consideration’ to people of all religious backgrounds, or those who profess no religion, as the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision recently noted government must do. Demanding that a man check his faith at the door when he goes to work is an intolerable assault on our fundamental human rights, and Rep. Wheeler would do well to ignore FFR’s baseless attempt to tear apart social peace,” Anna Anderson, Director of Religious Freedom with the American Princioples Project Foundation in Arlingont, VA, told Caffeinated Thoughts.
Wheeler has no intention of backing down. “I will continue to send emails with the Bible verse in my email,” he said to Caffeinated Thoughts.
Read the letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation below: