Iowa Governor, Terry E. Branstand, recently issued a religiously divisive and likely unconstitutional proclamation urging all Iowans to attend state-wide Bible reading marathons organized by Christian-based groups.
Declaring “the Bible … as the one true revelation from God, showing the way of Salvation, Truth, and Life …,” the proclamation states that the Governor:
… encourage[s] all Iowans to join in this historical 99 County Bible Reading Marathon to take place June 30th through July 3rd, 2016 in front of all 99 courthouses and furthermore, encourages individuals and families in Iowa to read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.
Reading the Bible gives many Americans guidance, strength and comfort. And it is completely appropriate for clergy and other religious leaders to call on congregants to read the Bible. The Governor, however, should not be promoting such activities.
This proclamation divides Iowans along religious lines within and outside the Christian faith. As a starting point, there are numerous versions of the Christian Bible. So which version is the right one for Iowans read? Undoubtedly, the proclamation also sends a message of exclusion and marginalization to Iowans who are not Christian or are of no faith.
The Governor’s action is a good illustration for why the First Amendment prohibits government from preferring one faith or religion more generally. Official religious partiality erodes non-adherents’ trust in government treating them fairly and in the most extreme cases can coerce adoption of a particular faith based on the belief that it will result in favorable treatment.