Local governments get illegally involved

FFRF protests Day of Prayer events

bulloch county

The Bulloch County Courthouse, Statesboro, Ga.

Every year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation handles multiple complaints about local government officials inserting themselves into National Day of Prayer events, not as private citizens but in their roles as public employees or appointees.

FFRF, a national state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., so far this year has sent letters of complaint to Bulloch County (Statesboro, Ga.); the cities of Mandeville, La.; Guin and Summerdale, Ala.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Polk County Public Schools, Bartow, Fla. (event at Lake Wales Senior High); and the cities of Odessa, Texas, and Barron, Wis.

Complaints about Nampa, Idaho, Jeffersonville, Ind., and possibly other locales are pending.

"There are other complaints about NDP events that we've declined where it doesn't appear that the city/town is directly endorsing the event," said Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "Even if an NDP event takes place on public property, it may be legal if it's hosted by a private group that went through the proper procedures to rent and use that public space."

Grover wrote Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere on April 29 about the rally on the front steps of City Hall, which was prominently displayed on the city’s website under the section titled “Mayor’s Message.”

An April 16 letter from Grover went to Odessa Mayor David Turner and City Manager Richard Morition about the May 1 Mayor's Prayer Luncheon held annually in conjunction with the NDP. A city press release said tickets for could be bought through the city secretary and listed her phone number at City Hall.

FFRF contacted the previous mayor in 2012 about spending several thousand dollars of tax money on the luncheon and using city staff to coordinate it.

Guin promoted its event on the city's website and Facebook page.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote April 30 to Bulloch County Attorney Jeff Atkins, and included a photo of a sign on the courthouse lawn. "It appears that the county is hosting the event since there is no indication of a private sponsor."

FFRF also filed an open records request for county policies on advertising and putting up displays on government property.

This year's National Day of Prayer theme is “One Voice, United in Prayer.” The featured bible verse is Romans 15:6: "So that with one mind and one voice, you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Federal law says, "The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

Secularists and even some Christians have long noted that the day "has been taken over by evangelicals," as one man put it. The NDP Task Force, based in Colorado Springs, is top-heavy with social conservatives, many of whom are homophobic and anti-choice.

In the U.S. Capitol today, the task force held an observance in the Cannon House Office Building at 9 a.m. It was hosted by Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala. Two rabbis, both from Messianic Jewish groups, were listed as participants.

The 25th annual bible reading marathon started Sunday on the Capitol steps and was set to be completed today.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.