A national state-church watchdog is taking to task a Colorado county clerk and sheriff for their unconstitutional stand against the separation of state and church.
In responding to a group email in August about how county clerks should handle issuing a same-sex marriage license if it goes against one's religion, Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder wrote how he has hung a religious-themed poster where "there is no way to miss it if you are in for a marriage license."
Freedom From Religion Foundation Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel called out Schroeder on the constitutional violation in a letter of complaint to the members of email group, which consisted of several county clerks, a state senator and state representative.
"According to the email chain, some clerks or employees are uncomfortable issuing marriage licenses to gay couples," Seidel wrote. "Hopefully you all know by now that you must issue licenses to gay couples whatever your personal religion."
Seidel also took issue with the religious poster.
"Mr. Schroeder is displaying words from his religion's holy book to issue a religious warning to all citizens in a government building," he wrote. "This is unconstitutional."
After receiving Seidel's letter, Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap inserted himself into the conversation, vehemently disagreeing with FFRF's stance.
"These conversations are initiated to pervert the truth and do whatever is necessary to get the results you want," Heap wrote. "I'm going to get back to work and I'm going leave the cross in my office, the Bible on my desk and I support the clerk's constitutional rights."
The issue began when Cheyenne (Colo.) County Clerk Patricia Daugherty sent out a group email on Aug. 7.
"I have a delilma [sic] in my office that I wish to get a little feedback on," she wrote. "In my office, everyone has personal (religious) objections to issuing same sex marriage licenses. . . Am I the only office with this delima [sic]? What is your plan?"
That was followed up by an email on Aug. 9 from Schroeder, who decided to mix his faith with that of his government function.
"I pray for all the clerks across this country who have been made to make a terrible decision," Schroeder's email states. "I pray for our state legislators for them to use God's Holy Bible as a guide to govern. Prayer is the only thing that will change the downward spiral our country is in."
Schroeder recounted in his email response to the group how he has dealt with the mandate that county clerks offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"I talked with a local artist, who is also a Christian, and he created a beautiful poster which I have had hanging for about a year," Schroeder wrote. "There is no way to miss it if you are in for a marriage license. It is a picture of a bride standing on a hill with the groom walking up the hill to meet her. On the bottom I have a portion of the verse in I Corinthians where Paul says, 'Each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.' And cite the verse."
Schroeder believes he is following the letter of the law and wrote that he purchased the poster with his own money.
"I am not denying anyone service," he wrote. "My thought process is that they have to see the poster and if they choose to violate God's written Word, then that is on their head. I have warned them."
"The fact that this poster was commissioned and purchased with personal funds is irrelevant.," Seidel wrote. "If anything, it proves the point that Mr. Schroeder is abusing a public office to further his personal religion."
Several other clerks have already responded to FFRF saying they either refused to hang the poster or bought the poster but have since removed it from government property.
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization representing about 23,000 members across the country, including more than 650 members in Colorado with chapters in both Colorado Springs and Denver.