First Amendment group urges Hutchinson to stop quoting scripture in social media, says it's unconstitutional

FILE - Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers questions from the press Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, during the weekly briefing at the state Capitol. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
FILE - Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers questions from the press Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, during the weekly briefing at the state Capitol. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)


Religious social media posts from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson are unconstitutional, Americans United for Separation of Church and State said in a letter to the governor's office Tuesday.

Hutchinson, a Republican, posts Bible verses on his official Facebook and Twitter accounts every Sunday. The most recent, from Sunday, is Psalm 20:4: "May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed."

The Washington, D.C.,-based organization said it had received a complaint about the posts.

[DOCUMENT: Letter to Hutchinson » arkansasonline.com/15letter/]


"The government of the state of Arkansas exists to represent all the state's citizens, regardless of faith or belief. Having the governor routinely promote Christianity on an official social-media page flouts that responsibility and shows contempt for all citizens who do not follow the State's favored religion," the letter to Hutchinson and his chief legal counsel, Karen Whatley, states.

Arguing that the posts violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from establishing a religion, the letter asks Hutchinson to delete them and refrain from posting religious content through official government channels.

The letter does not explicitly threaten any legal action but cites several past cases wherein the courts held that a public official violated the establishment clause by communicating religious messages to members of the public verbally or by displaying religious signs or symbols.

"The inclusion of religious content on the Governor's official social-media accounts cannot be squared with the law," the letter states.

The group requested a response to the letter within 30 days advising how Hutchinson's office plans to proceed.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State uses litigation, lobbying and advocacy to ensure that religion does not impact public policy; the government does not tell Americans what to believe or how to practice their faith; and that discrimination is not justified under the guise of religion, according to the organization's website.

Hutchinson spokeswoman Shealyn Sowers said the governor had not yet had a chance to look in-depth at the letter's claims as of Tuesday afternoon but would respond officially within the 30 days.

Sowers added that the governor won't change what he's doing at the present time with regard to the weekly social media posts.

The letter isn't the first time the establishment clause has been invoked with regard to Arkansas' government in recent years. A monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol is the subject of two ongoing federal lawsuits that say it violates the clause. The suits were filed in 2018 and have since merged.

Information for this article was contributed by Dale Ellis of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.