Absurd Washington bill to permit Capitol baptisms was all wet

FFRF Statement

Did you know an Olympia church seriously wants to conduct baptisms on Washington State Capitol grounds, and that a bill was seriously introduced into the Washington Senate to let them do it? Talk about "secular blasphemy!" Shockingly, Senate Bill 6085 was approved unanimously by the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee on Jan. 26. Fortunately, reason appears to have prevailed in the Senate Rules Committee, and it appears for now the seat of state government won't be forced to play host to baptisms.

What would have been next for Capitol grounds? Exorcisms? Religious animal sacrifice?

Churches may conduct baptisms to their hearts’ content at their tax-exempt properties. Baptisms on Capitol grounds would be an affront to the Washington State Constitution, the First Amendment, to common sense and to nonbelievers, who comprise a quarter — a full 25% — of the Washington state adult population and to all nonChristians, who comprise a third of Washington citizens. (American Religious Identification Survey)

Serious liability and financial concerns for the government were raised by this absurd use of Capitol grounds, but constitutional concerns made all other arguments irrelevant. No citizen, as Thomas Jefferson believed, ought to be compelled to erect, attend or support any place of worship. It would make a mockery of this precious principle of separation between state and church, were the Washington State Legislature to proceed with this misguided bill.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud that we were the catalyst for the State of Washington's decision to bar religious displays inside its state capitol, after we famously challenged a nativity display by seeking a permit for our own "no gods" Winter Solstice display. We're delighted this bill, which was all wet, has been sunk.

The bill was introduced in support of Pastor Jones of Reality Church (how's that for an oxymoron?). Last August, the Washington State Department of General Administration properly refused to give the Olympia church a permit to hold a baptism at Heritage Park on the Capitol Campus. Department of General Administration Director Jane Rushford issued her decision based on the state constitution's clear prohibition against using state resources for worship or the exercise of religion: "No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment." The state took into account the decision to ban religious displays from inside the Capitol in 2009.

Senate Bill 6085 was an absurd attempt to do a constitutional end-run, distorting the clear meaning of the Washington State Constitution. The “free exercise of religion” does not trump Constitutional requirements barring the state from establishing or subsidizing religion. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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