Ky. county religious social media messaging is in the crosshairs

A Facebook post from the Rowan County Clerk's Office with heavy Christian imagery and messaging

A state/church watchdog’s complaint over a county clerk website post that crosses the constitutional line is heating up in Rowan County, Ky.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the Rowan County Clerk’s Office in Kentucky to complain about its inappropriate use of a graphic depicting the crucifixion of Jesus on a social media message posted on Good Friday (see above). It turns out the Rowan County Clerk’s Office also posted a large Christian cross image on Easter saying, “May He bless you with all the joy and happiness life has to offer . . . Happy Easter.”

Now, Rowan County Clerk Elwood Caudill Jr. is compounding the violations by his continuing comments on social media complaining about FFRF’s legal letter.

FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Samantha F. Lawrence counseled Caudill: “By promoting Christian messages on the official Clerk’s Office’s Facebook page, your office conveys a message to all non-Christians in Rowan County that they are disfavored members of the community.” FFRF asked the office ensure that employees refrain from posting sectarian messages using official governmental channels.

Instead, Caudill defiantly posted FFRF’s complaint letter on his personal Facebook page, commenting, “So just when you think that things are looking up. I get this email and letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation today 4/4/2024 on my work email. So here it goes. Hope the concerned citizens are happy. [praying hand and clapping hand emojis] We will send a Prayer for you [two praying hands, one clapping hand emojis].” A number of individuals added their criticisms. One commenter added a post saying, “One of these days every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord.” Caudill goes on to say that he is considering getting rid of the entire County Clerk’s page and instructs his personal page followers to get news from other sources. Caudill’s comment demonstrates a lack of introspection, comments Lawrence, who adds: “This ‘my way or the highway’ approach is unbecoming of any serious public servant — or Christian. He states that he ‘is not ready for a lawsuit and the restrictions that come along with having a Government page.’”

Official government social media accounts must comply with the Establishment Clause, as well as the First Amendment as a whole. Thus, government accounts cannot promote religion over nonreligion or, in this case, Christianity over all other faiths. Further, courts have held that in some limited circumstances, a government official’s social media activity can violate the First Amendment even if the account is not an entirely official account. That’s why it’s best practice for government officials and employees to keep religion off official accounts and avoid mixing their personal religion with government business online.

Unfortunately, Kentucky remains one of a minority of states that still has a statute closing governmental offices on Good Friday, that most dolorous of Christian holy days, with no “secular trimmings” that non-Christians can share. Despite that antiquated statute, governmental offices may not lend their support to one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion.

“This county clerk is working at cross-purposes,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “He must stop using county-related social media to promote his personal religious views and uphold the principle of separation between state and church that has made our nation so great.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members in Kentucky and an FFRF Kentucky chapter. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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