Let us know in the comments below what you think of Rep. Scott Allen’s holiday message.
In Wisconsin, state resources were used to deliver a holiday message encouraging non-Christians to consider conversion, reported The Forward last week. Rep. Scott Allen of the Wisconsin Assembly recorded the video message in a state-owned studio and used the state email system to send it to constituents.
In the video, Allen is seen standing in front of a Christmas tree in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda. His message is one of peace and love, using quotes from the book of Hebrews to urge fellow Christians to find ways to increase these values in the coming year.
The video becomes controversial, however, when he states, “For those who may watch this who are not Christians, I invite you to consider the hope offered by the Prince of Peace.”
The video has several groups up in arms.
“The religious message is astounding,” said Marc Stern, general counsel at the American Jewish Committee. “It’s been some time since I’ve seen something that far over the line. There is a difference between active proselytizing and speaking about your beliefs. This clearly crosses the line.”
Stern is not alone in his incredulity. At the request of The Forward, Deborah Lauter, Director of Civil Rights at the Anti-Defamation League, viewed the video message Wednesday. “Wow,” she said. “He’s endorsing Christianity over all other religions.”
It was Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation which first objected to the message.
“It’s simply egregious to have a public official who is this tone deaf,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, which fights to preserve the separation between religion and state. According to Gaylor, the group has some 23,000 members across the country.
But Allen is unapologetic. The Republican from Waukesha, Wisconsin claims he did not intend to proselytise, but to appeal to those of no particular religion. “There are a lot of people who feel lonely or lost or don’t have a particular faith.”
In a phone interview, Allen justified his use of state resources. “Political leaders have a responsibility to give a message of hope and faith,” he said. “I’m not ashamed of the message.”
Allen has the support of Republican State Representative Robin Vos, who is Wisconsin’s assembly leader. Vos told the Associated Press he felt Allen’s message was “entirely appropriate,” adding that people were “making a mountain out of a molehill.” However, when told of Stern and Lauter’s reactions, he agreed to “take another look at it.”
Both men downplayed the cost to the state of making the video. Vos argued the studio employees would have to be paid whether working on Allen’s video or something else.
Vos said he did not notice any overt proselytising when he first watched the video, though he acknowledged Allen encourages non-Christians seeking hope to look for it in Jesus.
Said Stern, “If that’s not proselytizing, I don’t know what is.”
There is little likelihood, however, of litigation succeeding against Allen in the matter. Elected officials are permitted to express their beliefs, so long as they do not pass legislation which limits people’s freedom of religion. “The courts have made it clear that they are not in the business of policing what every official says,” Stern said.
Still, both he and Lauter praised the Freedom from Religion Foundation for calling attention to the problematic video.
“To ignore this would be just wrong,” said Lauter. “Even if the entire population of his district was Christian, it is still insensitive and it violates the First Amendment.”