Houston jails shouldn’t have held Kanye West shows, FFRF insists

Kanye Tweet

Kanye West shouldn’t have been allowed to spread the gospel to Houston inmates, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has written to the Harris County sheriff.

Harris County Sheriff’s Office officials organized two surprise West concerts on Friday, Nov. 15, for inmates and staff. West coordinated the performances with jail officials and explained to the media that since his recent public conversion to Christianity, “My job is to spread the gospel, to let people know what Jesus has done for me.”

The performances of songs from West’s recent religious album, “Jesus Is King,” were “really more like a church service,” the media has reported. West “brought some light and #churchservice to people who needed it today at the Harris County Jail,” stated none other than Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on social media. Gonzalez also sent out a tweet quoting West as saying that the performance was “a mission, not a show.” The Sheriff’s Office retweeted both of these messages, celebrating the Christian aspect of West’s performances.

Kanye Tweet 2

Arranging a church-like religious concert for inmates clearly indicates the Harris County Sheriff’s Office unconstitutional preference for Christianity, FFRF points out.

“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel writes to Gonzalez. “By organizing what you admit to be a worship service, you crossed this line.”

In short, this was unconstitutional, FFRF underscores. Gonzalez has been elected to a secular office and to uphold a secular Constitution. He cannot use that public office to promote his personal religion, even if it happens to be a religion Kanye West shares. This constitutional violation by Gonzalez is particularly egregious because it imposed religious views on inmates — literally a captive audience — who have a deep and immediate interest in being seen favorably by the jail staff.

Making Kanye West’s megafame an excuse for allowing him to perform at government facilities is absurd, FFRF contends. If anything, this makes the violation worse because the captive audience may be more receptive to his message.

And any claim that the inmates’ attendance of West’s concerts was a voluntary decision is specious, FFRF underlines. The notion of voluntariness cannot excuse a constitutional violation, especially when a state-sponsored religious practice is foisted on a captive audience. Plus, nobody believes there is a genuine choice between sitting in a cramped, locked cell, and listening to a two-hour-long concert, even if it was “really more like a church service.”

Anyway, West’s recent gimmickry in the Houston jails wasn’t about the inmates; it was about a superstar using his notoriety to pressure a captive audience into accepting his particular brand of religion. No government in this country can constitutionally aid him in that religious mission.

“Kanye West is free to go on whatever new fork he wants to in his life’s journey,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “However, a governmental entity can’t provide him with a captive audience and assistance to further his purposes.”

FFRF is requesting assurances that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office will refrain from organizing and promoting such performances and is asking for public records pertaining to the shows.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,300 members and a chapter in Texas. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about 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.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement