Louisiana Record

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Freedom From Religion Foundation won't file civil action over Washington Parish sheriff's Facebook post

By Angela Underwood | Jan 30, 2018

FRANKLINTON — Constitutional Attorney Andrew Seidel said the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is satisfied that Washington Parish has removed a post promoting prayer by Sheriff Randy Seal on the department's Facebook page and won't be pursing any further action. 

Seal came under fire after posting the biblical passage of John 15:13, which states, “Greater love hath no man that than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

In turn, the Wisconsin-based foundation sent a letter to Seal asking him to remove the scriptures from the government's social media site.

“Our goal is to keep church and state separate; and when we see a violation of that Constitutional principal, our first step is to try and educate the government or actor about why what they are doing is a violation,” Seidel recently told the Louisiana Record.

According to the counsel, sometimes members of the government simply don’t understand the law and other times it can be a “rogue” employee inciting drama.

“Most of the time a letter is enough to correct the violation,” Seidel said of correspondences he sent to Seal asking him to remove all Biblical scriptures from the law enforcement Facebook page.

“I wrote the sheriff; the letter was forwarded to the council for the sheriff; and I communicated with the council a couple of times and was informed they went ahead and took care of all the posts and we double checked,” Seidel said. “We are happy to move on from there." 

He added that FFRF will not be filing a legal complaint against Seal to seek civil remedy.

That is not always the case for a probable legal case, however. 

“At anytime, we have between 15 and 20 cases going on all around the country," said Seidel, who estimated that the foundation receives about 5,000 complaints annually. 

The attorney said no money is ever made off any lawsuits FFRF files and wins. 

"If we can resolve (the cases) without going to court, it’s a better use of everybody’s time and money,” he said. 

The whole matter in Washington Parish could have been avoided, Seidel said, if Seal would have shared his faith on his personal Facebook page. 

“Theoretically, the Establishment Clause is for situations like this when a public office is used for personal faith,” Seidel said, adding coercion is not the issue. “It is whether or not he is using his public office or public resources to promote his personal religion, and that is very clearly what was happening here.”

He said there are cases when it is borderline and the FFRF decides if it is worth pursing, but not when it comes to biblical scripture.

“Quoting from the Bible is clearly not OK, and other courts have found that in nearly identical situations,” Seidel said.

As for Seal's personal Facebook page, he can say whatever he wants, according to the attorney.

“That’s where we draw the line,” Seidel said. “Is he posting this as Sheriff Seal or as Mr. Seal, and that sort of determines what could be said and done.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has said time and again that the Establishment Clause does not just require the government to be neutral between religions, Seidel said, but also between religion and non-religion.

“At one point, it was just thought that it prevented the government from choosing one sect and elevating it above another, but in the crucible of litigation it became clear the government cannot endorse religion generally,” Seidel said.

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Organizations in this Story

Freedom From Religion Foundation