Kayne West’s recent concert at a Houston jail, which featured a choir and used songs from his new album, “Jesus is King,” was an “egregious” violation of the separation of church and state, a national atheist group alleges in a complaint filed with the local sheriff.
“This was about a superstar using his notoriety to pressure a captive audience into accepting his particular brand of religion,” said Andrew L. Seidel, director of Strategic Response for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
In a four-page letter to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Seidel also requested that public records related to all correspondence, emails and concert notices between West’s team and officials from the jail or sheriff’s department be provided to FFRF within 10 days.
As Christian Headlines previously reported, West performed surprise concerts at both the men’s and women’s facilities on Nov. 15. West was in Houston that weekend as part of his national “Sunday Service” tour and spoke at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church.
During the jail concerts, several officials, including Gonzalez, tweeted out photos of the performances.
Jason Spencer, public information officer for the jail, also tweeted out a message including photos of inmates worshiping in their orange uniforms.
“Say what you want about the man. But @kanyewest and his choir brought some light to people who needed it today at the Harris County Jail,” Spencer’s tweet read.
The social media posts caught the attention of FFRF, which maintains the concerts were illegal because of the religious content.
“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” Seidel wrote in his Nov. 18 letter. “By organizing what you admit to be a worship service, you crossed this line.”
Seidel went on to take Gonzalez to task for using his secular office to “promote his personal religion, even if it happens to be a religion Kanye West shares.”
“This constitutional violation is particularly egregious because it imposed religion on inmates—literally a captive audience—who have a deep and immediate interest in being seen favorably by you and your staff,” the letter continued. “When you signal that you prefer Christianity to inmates, you tell non-Christian inmates that they would be viewed more favorably if they convert to your preferred religion.
“It is no excuse that Kayne West is famous. If anything, this makes the violation worse because the captive audience may be more receptive to his message. Too often we see religion assisting the vulnerable as a means of converting the susceptible.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Jamie McCarthy/Staff
Video courtesy: HCSOTexas
Lori Arnold is a national award-winning journalist whose experience includes 16 years at a daily community newspaper in San Diego and 16 years as writer-editor for the Christian Examiner. She owns StoryLori Media and is a member of the Evangelical Press Association.