The Jonesboro, Arkansas, emergency 911 dispatch removed Bible verses from its Facebook page after the city received complaints from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
The FFRF, a Wisconsin-based organization that advocates for separation of church and state, sent a letter to Mayor Harold Perrin of Jonesboro stating that it is unconstitutional for official government websites to promote a religion.
The group said the Jonesboro E911 page was promoting religion by quoting the Christian bible, posting prayers and sharing posts asking people to pray on its Facebook page, saying “This proselytizing message gives the appearance of government endorsement of Christianity."
The group points to the Supreme Court decision in County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, which states “The Establishment Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief,” according to the letter, which Region 8 News posted on its website.
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The establishment clause, included in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, prohibits the government from endorsing religion.
The letter notes that the 911 dispatch serves citizens of other faiths as well as citizens without a faith, and says that the practice of posting Christian messages on Facebook “alienates the nearly 30 percent of Americans who are non-religious."
The letter ends by asking the dispatch to refrain from further posting religious messages.
Perrin talked to city attorneys when the complaints were raised. Fritz Gisler, the director of communications, agreed with the attorney that the quotes should not be on an official government page, reported WMC Actions News 5.
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Gisler said he and the mayor have decided to create comprehensive guidelines for social media in the future.
Some residents take issue with the change, wondering why an out-of-state organization should decide how their local government behaves.
Many took to social media to express concern and outrage with the mayor’s decision.
“I don’t have a problem with them quoting Bible verses, it is just as good as quoting Ben Franklin or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, or Gandhi, especially if they are uplifting quotes,” said Charlie Potter.
The mayor said that he is just doing his job, which is to uphold the law and serve the people who elected him.