WETUMPKA, Ala. — A prominent professing atheist group recently sent a letter to officials with a city in Alabama to assert that its police department’s mixture of God with government is unlawful.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote to the City of Wetumpka on June 7 after learning that its police department hosts a summer community program at its facility that includes daily devotionals, and offers a monthly dinner with area churches known as “People Extending Christian Kindness.” The dinner is mentioned on the department’s Facebook page, which includes text thanking God or citing Scripture.
Some officers also host Bible studies with children on the streets.
FFRF contended in its correspondence that the police department is not being neutral toward religion by hosting the events and writing about them on Facebook, and that its involvement in Christian activities makes non-Christian residents feel like “outsiders.”
“The police department’s proselytizing and the endorsement of this proselytizing through the official Facebook pages of the city and the department violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by favoring a specific religion over others,” the group wrote.
“[C]itizens should not be made to feel excluded or like political outsiders because the local government they support with their taxes oversteps its power by proselytizing and promoting religious events through official government channels,” it stated.
FFRF asked that all such events be discontinued and that any Facebook posts of a religious nature be deleted.
“We ask that all events sponsored by the city or the department discontinue including devotionals or other religious elements, and that the department cease official participation in religious events like the “People Extending Christian Kindness” dinners,” the organization wrote.
Wetumpka Police Chief Danny Billingsley declined to comment when contacted by the Wetumpka Herald about the matter.
As previously reported, in a recent dissenting opinion in a New Mexico Ten Commandments case, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Paul Kelly, Jr. and Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich noted that the Establishment Clause is being interpreted incorrectly and not in “the historical understanding of an ‘establishment of religion,’ and thus with what the First Amendment actually prohibits.”
They explained that “[e]stablishment was … the norm in the American Colonies. Exclusive Anglican establishments reigned in the southern states, whereas localized Puritan establishments were the norm in New England, except in Rhode Island.”
This began in Europe, “the continent of origin for most American colonists,” Kelly outlined. “[E]ach country had long established its own state church—a generalized version of cuius regio, eius religio—over which each government exercised varying degrees of control. Germany and Scandinavia had official Lutheran establishments; Holland, a Reformed state church; France, the Gallican Catholic Church; Ireland, the Church of Ireland; Scotland, the Church of Scotland; and so on.”
Therefore, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution regarding “respecting an establishment” only referred to showing favoritism to one state establishment over another, and solely applied to the federal government.
“From the words of the text, though, two conclusions are relatively clear: first, the provision originally limited the federal government and not the states, many of which continued to support established churches; and second, the limitation respected only an actual ‘establishment of religion,’” the federal judges outlined.