Governor Justice has issued a proclamation declaring November 19 through November 25 to be “Christian Heritage Week” in West Virginia. It’s the 26th consecutive “Christian Heritage Week” in the state, and we are hoping, the last. We sent a letter to Governor Justice asking him to end the practice.
Separation of church and state is established in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. West Virginia’s Constitution has a similar provision. Courts have been clear that no religion should have the appearance of having special privilege, favor or endorsement from the government – nor should there be unnecessary entanglement between government and religion.
“Christian Heritage Week” certainly violates the idea that no religion will be given special favor. People of other faiths including Muslims, Jews, indigenous religions and even those who proclaim no religion have all made substantial contributions to the growth and development of West Virginia. Yet no other religion is singled out to celebrate their history or heritage; this gives the appearance of favoring one religion over others. It is similarly troubling that “Christian Heritage Week” routinely falls on the week of Thanksgiving – because it entangles a national, secular holiday with a celebration of a particular religion.
“Christian Heritage Week” is also an undue and unnecessary entanglement of politics and religion. The push for states to celebrate this week has been led by David Barton. Mr. Barton has advocated for more entanglement of Christianity in all levels of the government, spread misleading information about the historical and legal principle of secularism and promoted anti-immigrant, anti-LBGT and anti-Muslim rhetoric. We are in a new era where these groups are facing increased vitriol and violence. We are calling on Governor Justice and all our leaders to recognize this and refuse to give a platform to those who would amplify this hate. Instead we must commit to being a state where people of all faiths, or no faith, are welcomed and treated as equals.