June 11th, 2010
03:17 PM ET

Separation of church, state and Twitter?

If you are one of the some 3,000 Twitter followers of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, then you probably know he is a prolific tweeter of Bible verses. Today he tweeted:

Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
From twitter.com/RepShimkus

The 140-character missives are causing "unease" with Bernard Schoenburg, a columnist from The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois.

A group not particularly thrilled about them is Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which reached out to us about about the tweeting congressman.

Barry Lynn, the group's executive director, told the CNN Belief Blog, "He wants people to adopt his Christian world view. There is probably no way to go and sue anybody about this. I would hope members of Congress would know their constituents are more interested in how to solve unemployed than your favorite Bible verse."

When asked if the congressman would be able to spell out a solution to unemployment in the 140-character limitations of Twitter, Lynn said, "You could get a good start."

Lynn says his group is not planning to sue because, "some things are so trivial you can't file lawsuits against them, but the fact this is an official government venue for spreading ideas ... it should raise concerns."

Shimkus' office told CNN that Schoenburg's column was the first complaint they had fielded about the posts.

Late this afternoon, Shimkus posted an apology in two tweets:

To twitter and FB followers. I am relatively new to this as many know tweets were designed to let people know what one is up to.

I do a daily devotions so that is part of my day. I am sorry if I have offended anyone and I appreciate the comments in support.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics

soundoff (196 Responses)
  1. Surthurfurd

    If John Shimkus is promoting his religion on his own resources, then let him and honor him for it. If it is on government resources or with the notion that it is a governmental ideal, then he needs to cool it. He should likewise be quick to jump to support any Muslim in elected office doing the same with their texts.

    My main concern is far too many people preach their religion to others; but, do not know it or accurately follow it themselves. There are many of Jesus' teachings that are completely against Republican ideals or Democrat ideals.

    June 11, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
    • Paul

      Honor him for it?? No one should be honored for living in the 12th century. But I agree with you that most church-goers are biblically illiterate. And Jesus is thought to be a later creation out of the Apostle Paul's metaphysical writings stemming from Jewish (old testament) scripture (see the 'Jesus Puzzle' by Earl Doherty), and the new testament can be equally divided into apocalyptic sayings of "jesus" and the "turn-the-other-cheek" nice guy sayings.

      June 11, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  2. DfromthePeg

    I guess now Twitter is an engine of the far right-wing religious extremist nutjob conspiracy to indoctrinate our kids into believing in GOD. I guess that's why Pinchy Sulzberger banned tweeting from the New York Times.

    June 11, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  3. XWngLady

    The Congressman has a right to quote scripture.But I think that just like anything else, things should be done in moderation. Every now to make a relevant point is fine, but sharing your personal devotion with everyone in this format, I think, is not wise. Personal moral conduct and support of ALL issues (not selected Republican ones), but all issues that would embody "what Jesus would do" would send a better message and set a better example than quoting Bible versus (remember Satan quoted scripture too).

    June 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
    • TJ

      It's really simple. If you don't like what he's tweeting, don't follow his tweets. He is covered under the same Bill of Rights that gives him freedom of speech and religion that every other American is.

      June 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  4. NHWoman

    I think that CNN has taken a very well written article and shrunk it down to a sound bite that is guaranteed to get people heated up. If you are actually interested in the twittering and/or the article about it, google Bernard Schoenburg. You may still get heated up, but at least you'll get the whole story.

    June 11, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  5. Atheism4Ever

    Leave the man alone, let him tweet whatever he wants... It's his account and he is free to express his views... But you too are free to express your views – either by ridiculing biblical nonsense or by voting against people who believe in it.

    June 11, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  6. Steve

    I understand that....but I made that point because he's already underfire because he's different than many of us. Now, if he was Tweeting religious views from a religion other than Christianity I think he'd never hear the end of it and how inappropriate it was for him to Tweet his religious beliefs to the general public.

    We all know Christianity is the only accepted religion around these parts.

    June 11, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  7. Steve

    I have no problem with his Tweets. I think he's an idiot for doing it and worse, I think he's a moron for apologizing.

    Mr. Shimkus, stay true to your beliefs, even if it costs you an election because there are more people who don't want to hear your drivel than there are that do. Put your convictions on the line Mr. Shimkus. Don't be a politician.

    And for those of you that think people are making too much of this ask yourself what would happen if Obama tweeted about the Koran or Islam. Is that OK?

    June 11, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
    • Eric

      People would be confused considering Obama is a Christian.

      June 11, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  8. Guaranteed free expression for all

    Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free expression of any person's religion. That's the part of the First Amendment that no one seems to be capable of reading, let alone comprehending. Basically, government shouldn't even BE taking cases of religious expression...every single court in the land should refuse to hear any case based in religion, either in support or against. THAT'S the TRUE interpretation of this Amendment. This man has no need to apologize for freely expressing his views, and he can do so anywhere, at anytime, as long as they are his individual views. Yes, he CAN pray on the floor of Congress or in a school cafeteria, and so cna anyone else, as long as they are personal views. For a nation of people so intelligent, it's amazing how stupid we really are. That's like spelling the word "lose" with two o's, rofl....idiots.

    June 11, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  9. bailoutsos

    Tax churches like any other business, then they can offer their opinions.

    June 11, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  10. occula

    Rep. Shimkus' spokesman is quoted as saying "The Congressman’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are official government sites" in Schoenburg's column, fyi.

    June 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Tom in Shanghai

      The person identified in the article as citing "an official government venue for spreading ideas" is Barry Lynn, who is said to be executive director of American United for Separation of Church and State, not a spokesman for the Cngressman.

      June 13, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • occula

      No, from Schoenburg's story:
      "I wondered about the mixing of religion and a House office, and got this reply from his spokesman, STEVE TOMASZEWSKI: “The Congressman’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are official government sites, ..."

      June 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  11. Matt Smith

    I'm an atheist who is in favor of "separation of church and state". In this instance, however, I have no reason to believe the congressman has done anything inappropriate. The congressman has every right to express his personal religious beliefs through a personal, free Twitter account. He has absolutely no reason to apologize. The principle of separation of church and state is only applicable to official functions and venues.

    June 11, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • NHWoman

      Are you sure you're on the right blog, because you seem pretty clear-headed to me.

      June 11, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • mtnthc

      Precisely, if the moron from Illinois wants to tweet ridiculous nonsense, more power to him.

      June 12, 2010 at 12:04 am |
    • swright

      I completely agree. If this is his personal twitter account, and it is not used for political purposes, then what is the harm. I am not a christian, but I do not have any problem with this. Everyone is so uptight these days.

      June 12, 2010 at 4:40 am |
  12. Eric G.

    If I am ever elected to Congress, I will tweet and facebook one joke per day. Dirty jokes, religious jokes, blond jokes.............everything. How far do people need to be pushed before they realize how moronic our over-reation mindset has become?

    June 11, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  13. maizenblue97

    Remember the Bill of Rights is for the purpose of protecting the citizens from the government. The wall of separation was to keep the government out of the church not the other way around and besides the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Bill of Rights.

    June 11, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • Cason

      You can't have government out of the church but church in the government. For example, if you had Christianity at the reigns, fully of course, you would bet there would be anti-pagan/Islam/etc legislation passed. The purpose is to create a government that operates on secular ideals, because only non religion is fair to all religion.

      June 11, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
    • civiloutside

      No, the phrase doesn't appear. But there is a clause in the body of the Constitution itself stating that religion can never be a requirement for holding any government office. Which would seem to make it fairly clear that the framers were trying to keep religion (or at least any particular religion) from dominating the government.

      June 14, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  14. robert

    ridiculous. first of all, he wasn't standing up reciting this in congress. he was tweeting, something that has nothing to do with the public. i am a huge proponent of separation of church and state. this may (or may not) have been church, but it sure as hell wasn't state. get a grip.

    that being said ... go find a solution for the oil spill.

    June 11, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • White Blaze

      I posted this before and oddly enough its gone for some odd reason The congressman in questions website paid for by the government has direct links and even a reposting of his twitter feed on it. Leaving little doubt that his use of twitter qualifys as an official line of communication.

      June 11, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • Christy

      It does not matter if it's a personal twitter account. He is making a stand on religion as a politician not as someone posting about what they ate for dinner that does not have a purpose to solve national issues. For that reason he should talk about issues not what is personal beliefs are if that is the case then he should get a personal account that does not show him in a suit and then spread his personal beliefs. Freedom of speech fine, but again it just shows that republicans can't keep their hands of trying to spread religion in their agenda. He will never have my vote.

      June 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  15. GJDay

    Since when has Twitter been a "an official government venue for spreading ideas"?

    June 11, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • White Blaze

      Since political leaders started using it as such.

      June 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • jonathan

      appearantly as soon as someone from congress made a twit out of a bible verse..LOL

      June 11, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  16. dove

    The founder father definitely meant separation of church and state. They even willifully decided not to have a pray at the signing. It was not an accident! History shows church rule does not work well for the average man.

    June 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • Jason

      There is no conflict here. Just because you're an elected official does not mean that you can't believe in a religion. It's his own personal twitter account that isn't recieving any of your tax money and his tweets aren't being used to pass laws. This almost seems to be more of people being intolerant to his religion.

      June 12, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  17. White Blaze

    Considering they have been using twitter accounts for official use a great deal then yes as an official communication from a member of congress such activity is improper.

    June 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • jonathan

      If found guilty of your charge he should no less than be shot!

      June 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  18. E. Elliott

    I agree that his priorities need to be improved. As long as he is not on company time, at work (which is like all the time for an elected offical?) then we should not care. The voters now know what he spends his time thinking about. Maybe he would find full time religious duties in a church some where more fulfilling. Otherwise – get to work you stiff.

    June 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • Ellid

      It's Saturday, which is a day of rest for most Americans *because of unions, not because of religion*. I am appalled by the attempts of the C Street cult (aka the Family) to destroy American democracy. That includes tweeting Bible verses.

      June 12, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • Joel Weymouth

      The economy works a whole lot better when the government gets out of the way. The government has been interfering with the economy for almost a year and a half and it has gotten far worse. So if all the Congress takes their time off and quotes Bible verses or plants flowers I will be happy. Hopefully Obooboo will go on a vacation and quote the Koran or the Bible, or the Rig Vedas for the next 3 years so the rest of us can live like Americans.

      June 12, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
    • HealthySceptic

      Again @ Joel Weymouth
      How's that No-Government Interference De-Regulation of the Banking, Auto, and now Oil Industries workin' out for you? eah, it's so much easier to just blame the current industry for everything that's wrong with the world than to have any working short-term memory... say, one that goes back to the previous admin's decisions that have caused the mess we're trying to dig ourselves out of. You seem awfully certain that "staying the course" of that previous Administration would have kept us out of this situation...
      And who was it that just used the phrase "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"?

      June 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  19. Eric G.

    This Barry Lynn needs to find a hobby. The Congresman has personal twitter and facebook accounts. He can say whatever he wants. To me, there is nothing offensive about what he posted, and I'm an atheist. I would like to tell John Shimkus that he does not owe anyone an appology. Now, that being said.............. Go do something about the economy.

    June 11, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • E. Elliott

      I agre. I wonder if he is associated with the C street cult? We ought to watch for that on an up comming Rachael Madow.

      June 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Jen

      Barry Lynn has a hobby.....protecting your freedom of religion. Keeping the governments nose out of religion, and religion out of government is integral to religious freedom.

      June 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • Fritz

      As far as I know, those accounts are paid for by government money (my money). Since I do not believe in a triune god. I don't relish him preaching to me.
      He can pray all he wants as long as he does not ask me to listen. He was not elected to represent only one group of people although he may think so.

      June 11, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
    • Jason


      Twitter and facebook are free. Your tax money isn't going to it.

      June 12, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Joel Weymouth

      Jen: the separation of Church and State is one way. The State must stay out of the Church. The Church may influence the state. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM WITH A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNMENT HAVING RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. You people that are having a problem with this should do something about the poor. Barry Lynn is a charlatan and what Jesus called: a wolf in sheep's clothing. Jesus in Matthew 23 called the likes of him a dog, a viper, a thief – he is no good.

      June 12, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
    • HealthySceptic

      @Joel Weymouth
      He also (apparently) said something about, "Judge Not Lest Ye Be..." Well, you know the rest. Guess you just pick and choose the verses that support your view and conveniently manage to ignore the ones that are inconvenient. Typical "Christian".

      June 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Kate

      But only on his own time. He doesn't get to push his religion while he is being paid to be government representative.

      June 14, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  20. Anthony

    Is a politician not allowed to hold religious beliefs? So far as I know, he is not forcing people to read and abide by the verses, merely quoting them. If a person has half a brain, they will not go to a politician's TWITTER ACCOUNT for solutions to issues. The imbecility of some people is astounding.

    June 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm |

      not he can't,

      June 11, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • jonathan

      The congressman could always give us the double rods; we'd like that much better than his bible verse..in fact one day we will micro manage each and ever congressman and president and court in the land...Hey ! that's an idea replace all public servants with a master computer...which receives all our input and does only exactly what we say....that way there will never be any controversy nor differences..we can even have little computers come out campaign for what we need to do best!!! Yeah, let's pray for that day...Hey i like it!

      June 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
    • slorgg

      Though church and state should be separate we have used church to influence affairs of state most notably on abortion and euthanasia matters of legislation. This should be avoided to ensure logic based decisions for the benefit of not just a select group of people.

      But look at the language. "Church = belief" and "state = we the people" The concept of church against state is impossible to control. We would have to put people in office that make no belief driven legislation... no abortion laws, no gun laws, no hate speech laws, no gay restrictions or rights needed, no departments or agencies to pontificate these things...at our expense! People lawfully do as they choose, do business lawfully and have the right to defend themselves.

      June 11, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • AEHL10

      Yes he is allowed to. No one was forced to read what he wrote. He is not attempting to convert anyone, he is not stating that people have to believe what he believes. Personal beliefs, be they in a God or higher being or in nothing except random chance is a personal choice and can be discussed. If the people who voted for him had an issue with his personal beliefs then I'm sure they would or will decide that with his vote. I highly doubt any of you saying he doesn't have this right live in his voting district.

      June 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
    • b. May

      For the illiterates – "CONGRESS shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" (that's from the 1st amendment for those of you who haven't bothered to read the actual verbiage) ...doesn't seem to say "Congressmen shall make no statements of any kind about religion", now does it? And if his Tweets have been passed as law and established a state religion I sure haven't heard the news..there's a reason FFR is not suing and it's not triviality.

      June 12, 2010 at 3:06 am |
    • FoLeY

      So they say this life is all predictions
      Confused by ones own contradictions
      Networked and twisted in endless fiction
      So Who really knows the right religion?

      Which in these times we see the end
      Until we all believe
      we merely just pretend
      That what we see is what they say
      Tomorrow we are promised better

      Its hard to see what we've been through
      Sorting through lies and absent truths
      Religious views that have no proof
      Children die never seeing a roof
      The pain and suffering we all must see
      Seems it doesn't matter how hard you believe
      But wait on this God is what I've been told
      even that now is now getting old

      Its up to us to predict the change
      And stop fighting these wars
      to find someone to blame
      Our planet is life
      this isn't a game
      Is not about fame
      the most money or fortune
      Its not about the next president, womans rights or abortion
      The time is now we must work together
      As human kind we must change forever
      Cause the clock is ticking
      We are all losing power.
      The time is now.
      Its the final hour.

      bY: ChRiS fOLeY

      June 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Joel Weymouth

      Yes he can shaiaria or whatever your name is: you are a prejudiced bigot, or you are trying to push Muslim Sharia law down our throat. His personal beliefs are his own. You are just the typical uneducated liberal parroting the garbage given by their secularist teachers.

      June 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
    • ol cranky

      the question about whether this is appropriate or not lies in why he has to post religious devotions as RepShimkus instead of as a private citizen and whether he's using government issued equipment or systems to do so. Anything posted and/or any page set up as "Representative Shimkus" appear to made in his official role in the government and therefor to be a government endorsement of the religious views he espouses.

      June 13, 2010 at 8:25 am |
    • HealthySceptic

      @ Joel Weymouth
      ..."you are a prejudiced bigot"...? What was it your savior supposedly said? (I've already addressed the "Judge Not..." reference but you continue to be oblivious to your own precious texts so,) "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Let's try that one. You condemn one person's response without acknowledging the anger and rancor behind your knee-jerk response. AND you attack their opinion by asuming that they wish to "push Muslim Sharia law down our throat." without any justification that their beliefs are in any way rooted in Islam. Why no hate (this time) for the Bhagad Vita, Buddhist Sutras, or even the Torah as you've expressed in other posts?

      As I've said before, Typical "Christian"... Not Christ-like in any way at all, but more than willing to place themselves on a pedestal – unaware that everyone else can now see up their skirt!

      June 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • WinterClover

      His religious beliefs should not be welcome if they are hindering his ability to do his job, which obviously they are. He is following the bible and not the Constitution of the United States. His job is to be an advocate for America, not for religion.

      June 14, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • godisamyth

      The belief in a fairy in the sky is even more astounding, and quite disturbing.

      June 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • Kate

      If he is doing it on government time, or using a government paid for phone – no. As a government representative, he is not allowed to push a religion. Otherwise, it's ok. Sounds like it's a government twitter account – that's a no no.

      June 14, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
    • shellyD

      Not on his POLITICAL twitter account. and yes, you are an imbecile.

      June 15, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • CB

      Separation of church and state does not exist. Look at our currency, go to court and you'll be putting your hand on the bible and swearing to tell the truth with God as a witness, pledge your allegiance to the flag with one nation being under God....etc, etc. Now I'm not saying it's good or bad, I'm just saying the separation part does not exist. People, all people are given the right to believe what they want with regards to religious beliefs, politicians, cops, judges, lawyers. Just like freedom of speech….you free to say what you want, but you can and will be persecuted for saying what you want if someone else sees an opportunity to exploit what you said…or didn’t say….so help you God.

      June 15, 2010 at 9:34 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.