Some elected officials have a bad habit of releasing official proclamations lauding the Bible, Christianity or religion generally.

We at Americans United find these proclamations to be extremely annoying, but judges have not been very sympathetic to efforts to try to block them in court. They usually say that these proclamations are just suggestions that don’t require anyone to do anything and therefore they pass constitutional muster.

Rubbish. When government officials pass religious proclamations, they are taking a stand on theology. They are saying, on behalf of the entire citizenry, that a certain religion (and guess what, it’s pretty much always Christianity) or a certain religious book (yep, always the Bible) is worthy of study and veneration. That’s not the job of government.

Because the courts have fallen down on their duty here, these proclamations just get worse and worse. If the mayor or governor is a fundamentalist Christian zealot, things can get really bad.

Consider, for example, a recent proclamation issued by Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa that many have criticized. It celebrates an upcoming Bible-reading marathon in the state and encourages “individuals and families in Iowa to read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.”

Elsewhere, the proclamation asserts that the United States was “founded upon biblical principles” and asserts that the Bible “is recognized as the one true revelation from God, showing the way of Salvation, Truth and Life….” It goes on to claim that the answers to problems like crime, social injustice and drug abuse “can be found within God’s revealed will for mankind….” (Because everybody agrees with these statements, right?)

This woman managed to read the Bible without the goveror telling her to.

Questioned about this evangelistic document by the Des Moines Register, Branstad feigned surprise that anyone would be offended since he’s just asking people to pray. Actually, it’s not his job to tell people to pray, but of course the proclamation does much more than that. In fact, the word “pray” doesn’t appear anywhere in it. The document lauds the Bible, more specifically, a fundamentalist interpretation of that book, and is studded with bad history and far-right theology.

Let’s try a thought experiment: Imagine if a governor in another state issued a proclamation like this: “WHEREAS L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, has inspired millions and improved the lives of countless people across the globe, I hereby urge all men, women and children of the state to read this book and apply its principles to their daily lives and furthermore to connect to an e-meter to remove engrams generated by traumatic past-life experiences with the goal of becoming clear.”

What are the chances that Branstad, if asked, would follow suit? Slim to none, I’d say. Yet why not? After all, it’s just a suggestion.