Religious Speech Unwelcome In Arizona State Employees’ Training

A photo of meeting notes taken by a Arizona Department of Economic Security staff member. [Photo courtesy James T. Harris]

A photo of meeting notes taken by a Arizona Department of Economic Security staff member has sparked outrage due to an anti-religion admonition to State employees. The photo, which was taken during a staff meeting of a unit of the Office of Professional Development, advises staff that the topic of religion is forbidden.

According to Kathy Greene, Chief Privacy Officer with DES, the Office of Professional Development (OPD) “designs the curriculum and conduct training courses for new and current employees.”

The list specifically notes:

  • Topic of Religion is no longer allowed in class or in the office
  • No religious quotes
  • No religious sayings
  • Avoid mentioning blessings

The photo was shared on Facebook by radio show host James T. Harris after an interview with former DES director Tim Jeffries. Jeffries, a successful businessman, was asked by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to head up the Department, which had been plagued by mismanagement.

Click on image to join the Facebook discussion

However, after Jeffries, a devout Catholic, began cleaning house, he became the target of disgruntled bureaucrats, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Secular Coalition of Arizona, and the press.

In June 2015, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office responded to complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) against Jeffries, accusing him of unconstitutionally promoting his religious views before and during a trip to Lourdes. After reviewing the letter, Arizona Attorney General’s Office Civil Division Chief Counsel Paul Watkins responded to the Wisconsin-based organization by comparing Lourdes to Lambeau Field.

“First, as any Wisconsin organization is likely aware, many people venerate Lambeau Field as a sacred shrine to the Packers (the Packers’ official website proudly refers to Lambeau Field as “Hallowed Ground” and as “one of the most revered stadiums in the country”),” wrote Watkins.” Would your constitutional objections remain if Mr. Jeffries waxed rhapsodic about his reverence for the “hallowed ground” of Lambeau Field and offered to prayerfully whisper each employee’s name while watching video highlights of Aaron Rodgers’ successful “Hail Mary” passes from the 2015-2016 season? Conversely, many people view Lourdes as a small town in France worth visiting for reasons that have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic faith. Would Mr. Jeffries’ emails have been unconstitutional in your mind if he had stated that he was planning on visiting Lourdes to study the architecture of the buildings there, and offered to bring back postcards?”

“Mr. Jeffries internal emails about his personal trip were private speech, did not bear the endorsement of the State, and did not violate the Constitution. Furthermore, if DES were to adopt a rule banning religious speech, in internal workplace emails, as you suggest, it would violate the First Amendment,” continued Watkins.

Watkins concluded: “[T]here is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.” Years later, seven justices of a divided Supreme Court agreed with this statement. A majority also held that “private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression.”

In her email to the ADI, Greene claimed that the “State of Arizona respects an employee’s right to express their freedom of religion, “ but she claimed that employee training is a different matter. “Our expectation is that the training is based solely on policy and operations curriculum.”

State officials may have a difficult time preventing employees from asking for blessings in a whispered prayer or two if the training involves testing.

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9 Comments on "Religious Speech Unwelcome In Arizona State Employees’ Training"

  1. I’ve never understood the Christian-phobic anti religious left’s inability to comprehend that the separation of church and state is intended to prevent a state sponsored religion such as the COE or Church of England.
    Somehow the theologically bankrupt left has convolutedly twisted this into no religion in any form on any public property.
    Another fine example of the well intending brown shirt guardians of freedom on the left embracing censored diversity and sanitized freedoms by their definition and standards.
    As a child I remember seeing a cartoon of a lone black sheep surrounded in a sea of white sheep with a caption “morally then”, below it was a lone white sheep surrounded by a sea of black sheep with the caption “and now”. Funny how all these years later that cartoon is ringing true.
    It’s a little ironic that God has somehow become an outlaw by the very same people fighting to keep his face from being on a wanted poster, makes no sense.

  2. The article quotes Kathy Greene as follows:
    Greene claimed that the “State of Arizona respects an employee’s right to express their freedom of religion, “ but she claimed that employee training is a different matter.

    Yet, the document states:
    Topic of Religion is no longer allowed in class OR IN THE OFFICE.

    You can’t have it both ways Ms. Greene. I understand that formal training classes are “based solely on policy and operations curriculum” but what about the latter part of the statement? I spend 8 hours a day IN THE OFFICE and you’re gonna have a fight on your hands the day you try to take down the religious quotes, sayings, pictures, etc. that I have posted on my cubicle walls IN THE OFFICE, much less if you try to prevent me from offering blessings or prayers to others IN THE OFFICE, or prevent me from saying Grace when I sit down to eat lunch IN THE OFFICE.

    I’m beginning to think that George Orwell was truly prophetic, but was off by 33 years…

  3. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” I don’t see anything about the separation of church and state.

  4. David Thompson | May 20, 2017 at 6:14 am |

    What the hell is going on in Phoenix? governor Ducey is acting like an out of control Dicktater (borrowed phrase). Speech is often associated with a Speech, this appears to ban religious conversation.

    How does someone get in touch with the originator of this policy that is clearly UNCONSTITUTIONAL,


  5. Under Ducey one must be extreemly carefull, that when someone Sneezes you don’t instinctivley say “Bless you” or even “Gesundheit”. It is unclear what the consequences might be under the governor. Perhaps termination resulting in being escorted from the office by a DPS swat team.

  6. Dwayne Wolfswinkle | May 20, 2017 at 8:38 am |

    This is just one step away from the State of Arizona telling Chickfilet they can”t have religious conversation in thier offices or stores.

    God Bless America, OOPs

  7. Luke Abrams | May 20, 2017 at 12:26 pm |

    So no school in AZ can have curriculum covering the “great” religions if they are supported by State funds? Does that apply to the universities as well?

  8. Timothy Jeffries, former Director of Arizona DES | May 21, 2017 at 11:15 am |

    I continue to hear from scores of DES colleagues, and the weekly reports are heartbreaking. Well over 1,000 DES colleagues miss the once GREAT DES which has tragically and unnecessarily returned to the OLD DES. No one, absolutely no one, including the Governor, is served well by the boomerang back to uncaring, slow-moving bureaucracy.

  9. I don’t belong to any church, but I think the anti-religious bigotry is getting out of hand. Notice it’s almost entirely in the form of anti-Christian bias from the left. I agree that proseletizing in the workplace or classroom is obnoxious, but religious references are part of our culture.

    Just before Easter, a young sales clerk wished me a happy Easter when I checked out. I appreciated it, and thought I hope he doesn’t get fired for being polite.

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