DECORAH — A “Happy Easter” post on the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page Sunday generated a flurry of reaction about whether a religious message from a government entity is appropriate.

The post, which includes an image of the cross with the words “He is risen,” has received more than 600 reactions and more than 185 comments. It was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

“We simply offered a holiday greeting on a weekend that is recognized by Winneshiek County, and unfortunately some people appeared to be offended by it,” Winneshiek County Sheriff Dan Marx said.

“The Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office generally does an excellent job. It’s too bad that didn’t carry over to their concept of the separation of church and state. And yes, we did go to church this morning. Yes, I do pray for the safety of folks who work to keep us safe. And I fully support their right to worship however they want outside the office,” read one comment.

“I am also thankful for what you do to help the community. But “Happy weekend” would definitely be more inclusive to all,” read another.

“Thank you. He has risen indeed. I am so grateful for this post and for the good hearts behind it,” one comment read.

Another commenter said the social media debate over Easter made her sad.

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“This is a day (Easter) to celebrate that our sins are forgiven and instead, there is hate and very ungodly conversation/argument. Let’s all go to our religion of choice and practice what it preaches,” she said.

Another Facebook user urged the Sheriff’s Office to take down the post “immediately.”

“This has no business being on a government page. Did I see a post about Ramadan, Hanukkah, Passover? No I didn’t because it wasn’t posted. Be inclusive to all or post from your personal Facebook page,” he wrote.

Marx has no plans to remove the post.

The ACLU of Iowa was made aware of the Easter posting by an individual who commented on the Sheriff’s Office page.

“This social media post by the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s official Facebook page is grossly inappropriate under our traditions of religious freedom enshrined in the Iowa and U.S. Constitutions,” said Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa executive director and former Universalist Unitarian minister.

“Religious freedom is alive and well in the United States precisely because the government can’t tell us when, how, or even whether, to pray. Government-sponsored prayer is an insult to our proud tradition of religious pluralism and equality. It sends an unconstitutional and exclusionary message that people of some faiths are officially favored while everyone else is second-class, or worse, in the government’s eyes. When, how, or whether to pray is a deeply personal decision—one that should be made without the government’s interference or influence. Our government is of the people, by the people, for the people, regardless of faith. Government prayer is a recipe for religious exclusion that undermines these timeless principles,” Stringer said.

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