Atheists object to Arizona department head's alleged promotion of religion

The Arizona Attorney General said Jeffries did not violate any law in sending the email.Pixabay

A group of atheists continues to insist that an Arizona state department head is using government resources to promote religion.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) first sent a letter in June to Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) Director Tim Jeffries regarding his email to all department employees about his membership in the Order of Malta and asked them to send messages that he will bring to Lourdes, France.

The group said this is unconstitutional as Jeffries tried using state government resources and staff to promote his alleged personal religious views and asked him to stop it.

But the Office of the Arizona Attorney General cleared Jeffries of any violation.

"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," Civil Division Chief Counsel Paul Watkins told FFRF in an Aug.10 letter.

FFRF responded, saying that "when Jeffries 'goes to work and performs the duties he is paid to perform, he speaks not as an individual, but as a public employee.' It is irrelevant that state employees are permitted to use work accounts to send and receive personal emails. The email addresses, the time and the computers are all government resources. Jeffries only has access to these resources because he is an employee and representative of the state of Arizona."

Watkins insisted that Jeffries' emails are private speech.

"Employees at state agencies, including DES, are not prohibited from using work email accounts to send and receive personal emails," he said. "Every employee is free to handle these personal emails and the views and opportunities presented as they please."

He explained that Jeffries' emails are not proselytisation.

"Although Mr. Jeffries mentions the Order of Malta, he says the purpose of the Order is to serve the poor and the sick. Overall, the emails demonstrate that Mr. Jeffries discussed a personal, charitable trip and were not attempts to convert others to his faith," he added.