The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted four federal agencies over what appears to be egregious violations of federal law by publicizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, who are appropriating the Presidential, Congressional and Great Seals of the United States to promote the breakfast. The misuse gives the false impression that the infamous National Prayer Breakfast, which takes place tomorrow in Washington, D.C., is sponsored and approved by multiple layers of the federal government.
FFRF has already asked President Barack Obama to boycott the annual theo-political event, where he is once again scheduled to appear and speak. FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog, wrote on behalf of its 17,500 nonreligious members nationwide.
In separate letters to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson and Clerk of the U.S. House Karen Lehman Haas, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted that the appearance of these seals “give the false and misleading appearance” that the National Prayer Breakfast sponsors have “close ties to the U.S. government.” FFRF notes the private prayer breakfast costs attendants $650 per person. The 2010 990 Form for the hosting organization, The Fellowship Foundation, reveals it raked in $1,053.468 in 2009.
The National Prayer Breakfast is put on by the notorious and shadowy Fellowship Foundation, aka The Family, which does not have its own website. The National Prayer Breakfast event is promoted at the website of the Leadership Development Seminars (LDS), an organization that works to further “Jesus centered leadership.” The LDS website is peppered with images of the Presidential, Congressional, and Great Seals of the United States.
The United States Code (18 USC § 713) prohibits the unauthorized use “of the great seal of the United States, or of the seals of the President or the Vice President of the United States, or the seal of the United States Senate, or the seal of the United States House of Representatives, or the seal of the United States Congress, or any facsimile thereof,” to give “a false impression of sponsorship or approval. . .” Violators of this criminal statute “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”
FFRF attempted to ascertain whether LDS has written permission to use the seals as required by law, and it does not appear that it has.
It is also a violation of Washington state law, where LDS is registered and headquartered, to use the Washington State Seal without permission. FFRF has alerted Washington State authorities to apparently unauthorized use of the state seal at the same website.
FFRF wrote LDS cataloging their misuse of Federal Seals last year and sent another follow-up today.
The LDS uses the seals on various parts of their website in the following ways:
• Keynote Speakers Tab: 6 Great Seals.
• National Prayer Breakfast Tab: 1 US Congress Seal.
• Prayer Breakfast ‘History': Faith, Prayer, and Leadership Tab: 1 Great Seal; 1 Congressional Seal.
FFRF contacted the U.S. Department of State last year, as well as LDS, to complain about misuse of the Presidential seal at the LDS website. Although that image disappeared from a more prominent place at the website this year, photos up at the website from previous prayer breakfast events still picture the Presidential Seal on the official National Prayer Breakfast podium.
“It’s past time for federal officials to go after the chronic misappropriation of the symbols of the Office of the President and federal government by these religious organizations seeking to unite religion and government. Let’s see some enforcement of the law!” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The Attorney General can stop the use of any of the Seals on the LDS website and is especially responsible for the Great Seal:
The Honorable Eric H. Holder Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
The Secretary of State is the custodian of the Great Seal and although not technically responsible for its enforcement, can discourage its use:
The Honorable Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
The Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate are jointly responsible for the Congressional Seal:
The Honorable Karen Lehman Haas
Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Capitol, Room H154
Washington, DC 20515–6601
The Honorable Nancy Erickson
Secretary of the Senate
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20515
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