POMEROY, Ohio – The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling attention to numerous constitutional infractions the organization alleges were committed by the Meigs County Commissioners Office.
FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, sent a recent letter to the Meigs County Board of Commissioners after a local complainant reported numerous constitutional violations from the office.
FFRF cited three specific categories of violations occurring at the board’s office: The unconstitutional hosting of a National Day of Prayer event, the promotion of religion and religious events on the board’s official social media page, and the imposition of prayer at public meetings.
On March 30, 2018 for example, the county board posted a graphic image on its official Facebook page depicting a crown of thorns with a New Testament verse and this statement: “For anyone who has been to our office or seen our picture in the paper while we are at our desks you have surely seen the bagger behind us that says ‘In God We Trust,’” the post reads. “It’s not just a motto. It’s a statement of our faith. Before each weekly board meeting we pray. We pray for and see God’s blessings in Meigs County.” FFRF documented similarly postings by the board on its social media platforms.
Additionally, FFRF addressed the unconstitutionality of Meigs County’s National Day of Prayer proclamation and official county prayer ceremony on the courthouse steps. The National Day of Prayer is a sectarian event originating with Reverend Billy Graham during his evangelical crusade in Washington, D.C., in 1952. He expressed an openly Christian purpose, seeking an annual prayer proclamation by the president because he wanted “the Lord Jesus Christ” to be recognized across the land.
“Government employees can worship, pray, or quote any religious text they wish when acting in their personal capacities. But they are not permitted to provide prestige to their personal religion through the machinery of the government office,” writes FFRF’s Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line. “The County Commissioners Office belongs to ‘We the people,’ not the office’s temporary occupants.”
The organization maintains that it is well-settled law that no government entity may use their position to promote a specific religious viewpoint, and doing so not only violates the First Amendment, but makes citizens feel like outsiders in their own communities.
“Religion is inherently divisive. This large-scale government sponsorship and promotion of religious activity is inappropriate and alienating to many members of the very community the board is supposed to be serving,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
FFRF is requesting that the Meigs County Board of Commission cease organizing and participating in prayer events, leading prayers at government meetings, and promoting religion on social media. FFRF asks for a response including the steps that the board plans to take to respect the rights of conscience of all Meigs County residents by ceasing its practice of endorsing religion, and Christianity in particular.
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. FFRF’s states their purpose is “to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism,” according to a statement from the organization.