(Washington, D.C., November 22, 2017) The Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) champions another battle to protect the separation of church and state. Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia received a letter today from the AHLC regarding his recent proclamation of the week of November 19-25, 2017 to be named “Christian Heritage Week” in West Virginia. The proclamation declares in part: “Thanksgiving week is an appropriate time to center attention on our thanks to Almighty God for His great and good Providence and for the Christian faith.” Making numerous references to prayer, worship, Bible reading, and other religious elements, Governor Justice’s proclamation can only be understood as an official government endorsement of Christianity.
In a letter to the governor, AHLC senior counsel, Monica Miller, wrote, “It is clear that this proclamation violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. We recognize that you and other elected officials may feel that endorsing the majority religion will be seen as a popular gesture, but your constitutional obligation requires that you respect the rights of religious minorities, and all citizens who value secular government, by refraining from such actions.”
The AHLC goes on to demand assurances that “Christian Heritage Week” and similar events will not be repeated, and that Governor Justice’s office will not issue similar proclamations endorsing religion in the future. If such assurances are not received, litigation may follow.
“Anyone, religious or not, can see that the purpose of a Christian Heritage Week is to promote Christianity,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “That’s wrong because government endorsement of a particular religion subverts Thomas Jefferson’s wall of church state separation. Everyone is entitled to be represented by a government does not elevate one worldview over all others.”