Alabama Lt. Gov.’s call to ‘pray for us’ unconstitutional, FFRF warns

Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth must refrain from using his public office to propagate religion, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has warned.

A concerned Alabama resident reported to FFRF that Ainsworth routinely uses his position as lieutenant governor to promote and endorse his personal religious beliefs and encourage Alabama citizens to pray. In particular, Ainsworth recently shared an article about the Blount County Sheriff utilizing his official position to promote and endorse Christianity with the message:

An anti-religion group is trying to make Blount County sheriff abandon a prayer vigil. Don’t they know Alabama’s motto is “We Dare Defend Our Rights”? Join me in praying for the sheriff and asking God to touch the hearts of the misguided FFRF lawyers.

This comment is in response to the Blount County Sheriff’s Department decision to disassociate itself from a prayer vigil it had planned to coordinate, after FFRF pointed out the constitutional issues with endorsing such a religious event.

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line sent a letter to Ainsworth to emphasize the constitutional issues with his religious endorsement and the exclusionary nature of his comments.

“As lieutenant governor, you represent a diverse population that consists of not only Christians, but also minority religious and nonreligious citizens,” Line writes to Ainsworth. “Religious endorsements made in your official capacity send a message that excludes the 24 percent of American adults who identify as nonreligious, including 38 percent of Millennials and younger Americans. Religious endorsements coming from your office needlessly alienate the non-Chrisitan and nonreligious citizens you represent, turning them into political outsiders in their own community.”

In order to uphold his obligation under the constitution to remain neutral on matters of religion while acting in his official capacity as lieutenant governor, Ainsworth must not use his official social media accounts to encourage citizens to pray.

“Government officials can worship, pray or quote any religious text they wish when acting in their personal capacities,” Line continues. “But they are not permitted to provide prestige to their personal religion by lending a government office and government title to religious ideology. Their offices and titles belong to ‘We the people,’ not the offices’ temporary occupants.”

FFRF has asked the lieutenant governor to disassociate his public office from his personal religious beliefs and to refrain from posting religious endorsements on any official social media pages.

“Lt. Gov. Ainsworth using his official platform to preach to Alabama citizens automatically creates an in-group and an out-group along the dividing line of religion,” comment FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s a completely inappropriate abuse of power.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members across the country, including hundreds in Alabama. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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