Secular Group Demands That Ducey Take Down 'He Is Risen' Easter Post

Phoenix New Times Illustration
(See update to this article below.)

Did Arizona Governor Doug Ducey jump the wall of church-and-state separation with an Easter Facebook post that celebrated the alleged resurrection of Jesus?

Secular Communities for Arizona, a "vibrant and growing community of Arizonans who self-identify as atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other labels of personal choosing" believe so. On Tuesday, a lawyer for the group sent the governor a demand to remove the post, referencing the First Amendment, the Arizona Constitution, and court decisions that purportedly bar such overt religious sentiments by government authorities.

Ducey, who's been open about his Catholic upbringing and faith during his governorship, posted two Easter messages on his Facebook page last Sunday during the Christian holiday. One contained an illustration of an Easter basket with eggs with the fairly innocuous, "Wishing all Arizonans a #HappyEaster! May you have a wonderful day surrounded by friends and loved ones." Similarly, he (or his staff) put out a press release on the state governor's website the Friday before the holiday wishing Arizonans a "joyful Easter and Passover weekend."

click to enlarge
The offending Facebook post.
Governor Doug Ducey's Facebook page
An hour before the Easter basket message on Facebook, though, he published a post that was directed more squarely at believers: "He is risen! Have a happy and blessed Easter!" He included a graphic containing a cross and a passage from the New Testament, John 11:25, which reads, "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.'"

The post generated more than 500 comments, with many Facebook users praising Ducey for his message, and others slamming him for it.

It's this second message that caused the secular group to send the impassioned letter to Ducey by activist-attorney Dianne Post. Following a reminder of the text and spirit of the First Amendment, Post told Ducey that, as a representative of a secular government, if he wants to send religious message, he must acknowledge all religions.

"If you are going to recognize Christians, you have to recognize Wiccans and the Satanic Temple too. Under the Arizona Constitution, you cannot treat the non-religious differently, so you’ll have to recognize them as well, I suppose on Darwin Day? The best course for government is to stay out of it completely and leave it to the personal realm," Post wrote on behalf of Secular Communities. "Elected officials should not use their government position and government property to promote their religious views."

Post went on to quote the State Constitution's apparent prohibition of such things, and gave statistics on the increasing number of Americans who count themselves as "non-religious," including up to 35 percent of millennials.

"On behalf of citizens and taxpayers, we urge you to remove the effusive Easter greeting that is much too tied to religion from the Facebook page and to desist in the future from expressing such religious sentiment on government property or time," she wrote, adding that the group would like to see a formal, written response to the letter. (Read the full letter below.)

As of Wednesday morning, the "He is risen" post remained on Ducey's Facebook page.

Below: An update with Ducey's April 25 response to the Secular Communities demand, and the full letter to Ducey, which appeared in the original article.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.