Rapper Kanye West’s visit to two Harris County jails in Houston last week drew fire from an atheist group, who claimed in a letter that his concerts for the inmates were an “egregious” violation of the Constitution.
West, who is a recent convert to Christianity, performed some songs from his gospel-rap album “Jesus is King,” which debuted No. 1 on the Billboard charts earlier this month.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation alleged in a letter to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez that West’s performance in one jail for male inmates, followed by another for females in a separate facility nearby, were “unconstitutional.”
“You were elected to a secular office and to uphold a secular Constitution. You cannot use that public office to promote your personal religion, even if it happens to be a religion Kanye West shares,” FFRF lawyer Andrew Seidel wrote to Gonzalez.
@kanyewest visited us today. I know he has a busy weekend in H-Town surrounding his visit to @lakewoodchurch, so appreciate him and his choir spending time with us. #HouNews pic.twitter.com/3e5s92WYY1
— Ed Gonzalez (@SheriffEd_HCSO) November 15, 2019
“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,” Seidel 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.”
— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) November 16, 2019
Seidel pointed to a tweet by Gonzalez as proof of his bias in favor of Christianity.
The sheriff tweeted: “[email protected] and his choir brought some light and #churchservice to people who needed it today at the Harris County Jail.” He attached a video of highlights from West’s visit.
In the video, the singer can be seen leading some of the inmates in prayer to accept Jesus as their “Lord and savior.”
Seidel dismissed as “specious” the notion that West’s concert was not a violation of the Constitution simply because attendance was voluntary.
“I can’t do it by myself. And I appreciate the group that came in with Kanye West. They inspired me to be on the other side. I don’t belong on this side no more,” said an inmate. https://t.co/tq0rJeWSJ2 pic.twitter.com/tzYxXTPZW7
— Houston Chronicle (@HoustonChron) November 22, 2019
The attorney claimed the choice between inmates sitting in their cells and seeing West perform is really not a choice.
“It is no excuse that Kanye West is famous,” Seidel further argued.
“If anything, this makes the violation worse because the captive audience may be more receptive to his message.”
The FFRF letter closed, “We request assurances that [the Harris County Sheriff’s Office] will not organize or promote worship services in the future.”
“Kanye West visited the Harris County Jail to offer hope and encouragement,” Berry told Fox News.
“The last time I checked, you can do that in this country. If every sheriff in America invited Kanye West to visit their jails, we might have less need for jails,” he added.
The First Amendment states, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The American Civil Liberties Union noted that courts “have generally protected prisoners from regulations that interfere with their ability to attend religious services or engage in prayer according to their religious beliefs.”
“The First Amendment protects a prisoner’s right to practice his or her religion of choice,” the ACLU further pointed out.
“The law protects these rights for good reason. Religious communities provide a vital network of support for prisoners and can play an important role in easing a prisoner’s transition back into the community upon release.”
Following his visits to the two Harris County jails last week, West was a guest on Sunday at the country’s largest congregation, Lakewood Church in Houston, led by Pastor Joel Osteen.
West has announced that a sequel to his last album, “Jesus is King Part II,” will be coming soon.