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We’re sure that headline may spark a few eye-rolls, but there are some who seem to believe that a senator tweeting Bible verses actually violates the Establishment Clause.
Let’s take a look.
In the past few months, Senator Marco Rubio has been tweeting Bible verses from his personal account, @MarcoRubio. He also has a professional account, @SenRubioPress.
When he began tweeting the verses more regularly, some journalists freaked out. One described his tweets as “unsettling,” and another suggested his account had been hacked. A writer at Townhall noted that the verses Rubio tweeted came from the Roman Catholic Church’s daily readings.
But that response was months ago. What’s going on now?
Well, the folks over at Freedom From Religion Foundation took note of Rubio’s tweets and sent him a letter, suggesting that he had violated the Establishment Clause. Their argument runs something like this:
- Marco Rubio’s Twitter account lists the fact that he is a senator in its description. This makes any tweets from this account government speech.
- The account tweets a number of Bible verses, not just a few.
- Government officials cannot endorse religion.
They have two suggestions for Marco Rubio to solve this “problem”: Either he can “stop tweeting bible verses or any other religious endorsements and delete those previously tweeted” or he should remove “all traces of the public office” from the account and never mention his work as a senator on his personal account ever again.
There are a number of problems with the above argument, but let’s look at a few.
First, here’s the text of the First Amendment, with some emphasis added:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The suggestion that any citizen of the U.S. has the power to make a law establishing a religion by tweeting a Bible verse is absurd. Senator Marco Rubio did not give up his First Amendment rights simply because he became a senator.
Second, much of the group’s argument hinges on the idea that if it appears that Senator Rubio is establishing a national religion, then he is in violation of the Establishment Clause. From the letter:
When it comes to violations of the Establishment Clause, i.e., the government endorsing religion, appearances matter. Government officials cannot appear to endorse Christianity. […] In this instance, by tying your government title to a social media page, you have intimately entwined your official position with the messages you send on that platform, creating the appearance of official endorsement.
Again, there are a few problems with this particular argument. For instance, it relies on FFRF’s perceived ignorance of the American people, who would somehow believe that Marco Rubio is somehow establishing a national religion when he tweets a Bible verse.
It also runs afoul of the religious test for public office. You see, if the principle FFRF is pushing for here were adopted widely, then any person of faith—Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or anybody else—would be forced to hide or shelve their religious convictions if they wished to hold public office.
Finally, the group makes a comparison between Marco Rubio’s Twitter account and the much-reported-on account of President Trump. The difference here is plain: President Trump often tweets specifically to make comments about policy.
But Rubio tweeting a few Bible verses is nothing of the sort.
There is nothing preventing Senator Rubio or other senators from tweeting religious statements, no matter their religion. They are not establishing a national religion by doing so, and to suggest otherwise is absurd.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.