Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is constitutionally off the mark in taking umbrage at two Freedom From Religion Foundation letters about religious freedoms in her state.
The governor has formally pushed back in writing against recent FFRF communiques to Auburn University and Snead State Community College about Coach Hugh Freeze baptizing one of his players and religious coercion at these institutions, respectively.
FFRF appreciates that Ivey states: “As Governor of Alabama, I take seriously my responsibility to faithfully execute the laws and that includes safeguarding the religious freedom of all Alabamians, religious and nonreligious alike.” It reminds her that at least 20 percent of Alabamians are unaffiliated with religion. “You are indeed the governor of nonreligious Alabamians and religious minorities, as well as the majority who identify as Christian in some way,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to her.
That’s why FFRF is sorry to see the governor use her podium to advocate public universities and state officials infusing personal religious beliefs into official duties. Ivey states that she is concerned about the religious freedom of coaches or presidents at public universities to “seek to be true to themselves — and to God — as they live out their lives and seek to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.” FFRF, too, is a firm believer in true religious liberty. It did not say that college officials should be required “to entirely remove faith from their lives” — only that they must not promote faith in their official capacities.
“University administrators and coaches are free to express their religious beliefs in their private capacity outside of their role as public officials,” FFRF writes. “But it is coercive, inappropriate and unconstitutional for them to push their personal religious beliefs on others, particularly students or subordinates, while serving in their official capacity as government officials.”
Citizens have the right to be free from religious dictation by government officials, who are paid by tax dollars and whose job description is entirely secular. For example, FFRF’s complainant at Snead State Community College is, just like College President Joe Whitmore, a state employee. (FFRF wrote to Whitmore regarding his inappropriate promotion of religion on the job.) FFRF’s complainant and other employees should not be subjected to religious coercion from their boss, a public college administrator.
Contrary to Ivey’s assertion, FFRF’s efforts are not about purging religion from our public institutions; our nation legally doesn’t have a “religious heritage.” Quite to the contrary, the United States of America was founded on the basis of Enlightenment principles. The Framers of our Constitution adopted a godless Constitution whose only references to religion are exclusionary — such as barring any religious test for public office. This secular heritage is enshrined in Art. I § 3 of the Alabama Constitution, which states: “that no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship …” These are the principles that define American religious liberty.
“You took an oath of office to ‘support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the state of Alabama,’ not to promote ‘worship,’ to disseminate your personal religious beliefs through your office or to otherwise evangelize,” FFRF’s letter reminds the governor in concluding. “Please uphold that oath.”
You can read the full FFRF letter to the governor here.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members, including hundreds of members in Alabama. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.