Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is appearing in a few days at a church event that raises serious constitutional concerns, the Freedom From Religion Foundation warns.
Stitt is scheduled to speak at Guts Church in Tulsa on Sunday, Sept. 22, to a group of “Guts Men.” The church’s advertisements for the event make it clear that Stitt will be speaking as the governor of Oklahoma, not as a private citizen. For instance, the church website’s front page is currently a large image of Stitt with the words “GOVERNOR KEVIN STITT” in large, all-capital font. On social media, the church advertises that it is “hosting Governor Kevin Stitt for a Men’s event.”
The same social media advertisement states that Stitt will discuss topics such as “serving God.” This is disappointingly consistent with a statement the governor made during his inaugural prayer service, that he intended to engage churches to solve issues “that the government can’t do, but our heavenly father can do.”
This is entirely the wrong perspective for a governor to have, FFRF contends.
“When you speak as governor, you are speaking as the government. If you want to address an issue that you think ‘the government can’t do, but [your God] can do,’ then you need to do so as a private citizen,” FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan D. Jayne writes to Stitt. “Using the Office of the Governor to promote a specific religious mission is unconstitutional and sends a direct message to the 30 percent of non-Christian adults who you serve that they have the wrong religion, and that only your personal god can solve Oklahoma’s problems.”
In fact, 24 percent of adult Americans now identify as “Nones” — having no religion.
Stitt’s own website states an objective to “demand accountability in our state government,” which requires government offices to “understand that they exist to serve and answer to the people of Oklahoma.” Stitt is being hypocritical in holding this expectation while leveraging his taxpayer-funded office to advance his personal religious goals, FFRF maintains.
It is also incumbent on Stitt to ensure that his office does not appear to endorse particular churches or religious messages, FFRF points out. If he intends to speak at a church event as a private citizen, he should ensure that the church does not suggest that the Governor’s Office sponsors or endorses the religious event. And in this case, FFRF insists, he should ask that Guts Church remove all references to his governmental office from the event.
“We are telling Gov. Stitt, as we tell all pious politicians: ‘Get off your knees and get to work,’” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s not OK in Oklahoma or any other state for public officials to misuse their office to promote religion.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit founded in 1978, has over 30,000 nonreligious members, including in Oklahoma.