During his visit to Houston this weekend, Kanye West didn’t just visit Pastor Joel Osteen and the thousands of people attending Lakewood Church. He also stopped by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office on Friday for two impromptu concerts for inmates and staffers.
If this were just a concert, then the praise West received would be warranted. But it wasn’t. It was a church service disguised as a concert. The media even reported it that way, saying it was “really more like a church service.”
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez himself said the same thing — even using the hashtag #churchservice.
— Ed Gonzalez (@SheriffEd_HCSO) November 16, 2019
“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel writes to Gonzalez. “By organizing what you admit to be a worship service, you crossed this line.”
In short, this was unconstitutional, FFRF underscores. Gonzalez has been elected to a secular office and to uphold a secular Constitution. He cannot use that public office to promote his personal religion, even if it happens to be a religion Kanye West shares. This constitutional violation by Gonzalez is particularly egregious because it imposed religious views on inmates — literally a captive audience — who have a deep and immediate interest in being seen favorably by the jail staff.
Making Kanye West’s megafame an excuse for allowing him to perform at government facilities is absurd, FFRF contends. If anything, this makes the violation worse because the captive audience may be more receptive to his message.
To suggest that the concert was voluntary is hardly an acceptable excuse here. What were the inmates’ options? Enjoy a Kanye West concert or… stay in your cell? C’mon now. That’s religious coercion by another name.
The problem isn’t Kanye West trying to do something nice. It’s that the sheriff’s office gave him a captive audience and publicity so he could further promote Christianity. That’s not their job. That’s a far cry from, say, having a Christian chaplain available to those inmates who request one.
This won’t be a popular stance — no doubt conservatives will lash out at the atheist group — but it’s the right one based on our nation’s founding principles.
The people who claim to love the Constitution always seem to have a problem with those who want them to follow it.