Atheists are accusing Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins of breaking the law with a prayer he sent to the agency’s workers yesterday asking God to help his workers “find their identity in You.”
Wilkins, a Baptist who is also the Florida’s chief operating officer, sent the missive to DCF workers yesterday after offering the prayer at a National Day of Prayer event – also attended by his boss, Gov. Rick Scott – in the Capitol.
“This message from a Department head to all subordinates is shocking and unconstitutional,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote in a letter to Scott and Wilkins’ general counsel yesterday. “The message gives the appearance of government endorsement of Christianity. Civil servants should not be subject to such ridiculous calls to religion in the workplace.”
Wilkins’ prayer refers to the Old Testament without mentioning Jesus Christ and basically asks God to protect the state’s children and families and help them to be better people.
“Help them to grow into a complete understanding of their authority in You, Lord, while retaining a submissive and humble spirit. We pray that the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow in them daily. We pray that they find their identity in You and view themselves as Your instrument, and that they will know that they are fully complete in You, and You alone,” part of his prayer reads.
The memo is part of an “ongoing dialogue the Secretary has with employees” to share information about his public appearances and agency activities, Wilkins’ spokesman Joe Follick said.
“Neither this message or any of the Secretary’s daily actions on behalf of the agency’s 13,000 employees and providers ever carry any attempt to impact every American’s right to believe and follow their faith of choice.
We are proud to have the nation’s best social services team working to improve this state and are proud that among our employees are men and women of all faiths,” Follick said.
But sending the prayer to employees is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibiting government sponsorship of religious messages, Gaylor argued.
“Government officials may of course attend private functions on their own time as private citizens. It is a misuse of office, however, for government actors to use their position to disseminate their religious messages spawned by the National Day of Prayer. A state department head may not use state resources to promote such a sectarian message,” Gaylor wrote. “Governor, you have taken the oath of office to uphold the secular U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Florida, and you must ensure that your office and public officials under your oversight do not abuse their position to further their personal religious beliefs.”
Read Wilkins’ entire prayer after the jump.