by Max Brantley
* The first post contains a logo with “911 Dispatch Jonesboro” at the top. The Post states, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Have a great Day!” While this statement is unattributed, it is clearly a quotation of Philippians 4:13. Immediately under the statement is a picture of a lone tree in the early morning with sun beams streaming through it.
In my opinion, this Post would withstand scrutiny, regardless of which test the court employed. This Post would clearly withstand the coercion test (whether direct or indirect). Under the direct coercion standard, nothing in your factual background indicated that the city was forcing people to engage in any religious practices lest they be penalized. No one was being forced by law to view the Facebook page or in any way even acknowledge its existence. Likewise, even under the indirect coercion standard (if that applies outside the school context) posting verses from the Bible on a Facebook page does not generate societal pressure to even visit the Facebook page, let alone engage in any religious practices.
The analysis under the Lemon and endorsement tests is very similar. A reasonable observer would (in my opinion) likely see the Post as simply an inspirational statement. This amounts to a secular purpose (satisfying Lemon’s first prong), and it has a primary effect (Lemon’s second prong) that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Accordingly, under either test, the specific Post would likely pass muster.
The second post contains the “911 Dispatch Jonesboro” logo, two statements, and two pictures. The statements are, “End of watch___ Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Though the latter statement is unattributed, it is clearly a quotation from Psalm 23:4. Underneath these statements are two pictures. The first is the U.S. Marine Corps seal overlaid with a black ribbon with the words, “In Remembrance.” The second picture is of U.S. Marines in full dress uniform standing at attention with their heads lowered. The picture, which appears to be at a funeral, contains the following statement: “Semper Fidelis, Marines #HonortheFallen.”
In my opinion, this Post would withstand scrutiny, regardless of which test the court employed. The analysis under the coercion standard is identical to that offered, above, when I addressed Post 1. Further, under both Lemon and the endorsement tests, the Post clearly has the secular purpose and effect of honoring veterans—specifically, Marines. So far from endorsing (or advancing, under Lemon) religion, the Post uses a biblical quotation to add solemnity to attempt to honor our veterans.
The third post contains the same 911 Dispatch logo, followed by an unattributed quotation of Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Directly under the statement is a picture with a coffee mug and the messages, “Good Morning,” and “Wishing you a very peaceful Sunday.”
A court would be highly likely to declare that this Post withstands the coercion test and somewhat likely to declare that it withstands the endorsement test. As for the Lemon test, given the fact-intensive nature of that test, I cannot provide a definitive response without more facts.
The coercion analysis is identical to that offered in response to Post 1. Under Lemon, the critical issue would be whether Post 3 has a primary secular purpose. It seems conceivable and reasonable to me that the Post has a secular purpose—namely, to promote emergency responders (and respect for emergency responders) as peacemakers. If this was indeed the primary purpose of the post, it would likely be found constitutional. But, based on the limited facts before me, I cannot definitively opine on whether that is the primary secular purpose behind the Post. Therefore, I cannot definitively say whether Post 3 would be upheld under Lemon.
Under the endorsement test, a court would inquire into how a reasonable, objective observer would view the Post. In my opinion, such an observer would think that the Post is affirming and promoting the peace-making activities of emergency-service providers. The Post is simply using a religious quotation to add weight and solemnity to the affirmation. The Post is not endorsing a religion, or a religious establishment, or even the idea of religion in general. Accordingly, under the endorsement test, a court would likely hold that the Post passes scrutiny.
The fourth post also contains the 911 Dispatch logo, followed by an attributed New Testament quotation in which Jesus is speaking: “Matthew 11:28–30 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Like the other posts, this quote is also followed with a picture. This one depicts a coffee mug, a present, flowers, and some kind of box. The picture contains two statements: “Good Morning” and “Have a Beautiful and Blessed Day.”