Geoff Diehl, the Republican nominee for governor of Massachusetts, began a social media ad last week that describes his opponent, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey, as being opposed to prayer in schools.
The digital ad, which started running last Wednesday on Facebook and Instagram, says: “Maura Healey Opposes Prayer in schools, but it should be our children and parent’s chocie! [sic]”
The attached photo shows a boy with a graphic that reads: “Maura Healey opposes prayer in schools. It’s time to restore our Christian foundational values.”
When asked what those values specifically entail, Diehl campaign spokeswoman Amanda Orlando did not directly respond, saying in an e-mail: “Protection of religion is secured in our First Amendment as cited by the Supreme Court in its ruling. It’s sad that Maura Healey, the Attorney General, refuses to respect that basic tenet of our Democracy.”
Diehl’s campaign said the ad, which is available on Facebook’s cache of paid advertisements, is referring to Healey’s reaction to a June Supreme Court decision that sided with a public high school football coach in Washington state who was fired by his school district for praying on the field after games.
In a statement after the ruling, Healey said she was “disappointed” with the decision.
“The football field is for playing, not for forcing religion on children,” she said at the time.
In an e-mail responding to a request for comment on the ad, Orlando sent a reporter Healey’s June statement and said: “notwithstanding the fact that you could have done a simple Google search and found this information about Maura Healey’s statements on this issue yourself.”
“It’s unfortunate that on yet another issue, Maura Healey chooses to take a position against protecting Constitutional rights of individuals,” she wrote.
The ad appears to be backed only by a small amount of spending — less than $100 — but looks to be aimed at tapping into a national debate on parents’ rights, a sleeper issue Republicans have been embracing this election cycle.
In a statement, Healey spokeswoman Karissa Hand wrote that the attorney general believes religious freedom is “foundational” to the country and that Diehl is using “divisive, dangerous language that has no place in Massachusetts.”
“It’s not surprising coming from someone who wants to bring Trumpism and the politics of hate to the Governor’s office,” she wrote.
Diehl, who has not run any television advertisements this cycle, is currently running 16 Facebook ads, which touch on topics like vaccine mandates, police reform, and immigration.
Earlier this month, the campaign announced a “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” where state agencies would be instructed to factor in parents’ wishes when making education and medical policy decisions. The campaign also announced that Diehl’s running mate, Leah Allen, would serve as the administration’s contact on parental rights matters.
The campaign’s platform includes supporting parental choice in schools; requiring consent for “controversial” subjects, library books, and guest speakers; and creating a curriculum oversight office to monitor subjects that “are not appropriate to be taught,” according to the campaign.
School choice and parental rights, especially after the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, are often a reliable way for Republicans running in statewide races to talk about issues that are typically favorable to their campaigns, according to GOP pollster Jon McHenry.
Samantha J. Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.