The Freedom From Religion Foundation has lodged formal complaints with the North Carolina General Assembly over its unconstitutional government prayers.
FFRF, a national state/church watchdog with over 17,500 nonreligious members nationwide, including over 400 members in North Carolina, sent letters to both the House and Senate in conjunction with its Raleigh chapter, the Triangle Freethought Society.
In order to protect the freedom of conscience of all citizens, FFRF sent letters of complaint on Feb. 14 to key members of the General Assembly. One letter was addressed to Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and Sen. Phil Berger, and the other to Speaker of the House Thom Tillis.
FFRF also sent a 38 page compilation of transcribed House prayers and a 28 page list of Senate prayers.
"Legislators routinely invoke the Christian deity, 'Jesus Christ,' and recite bible passages. Many of these 'prayers' are nothing less than sermons meant to proselytize and advance the Christian faith to the North Carolina general public," wrote FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Opening sessions with sectarian prayer sends a message of exclusion to all nonChristian and nonreligious North Carolina citizens. FFRF points out that the endorsement of religion excludes the 15 percent of the American population that is nonreligious.
Every session of the North Carolina House of Representatives opens with a call to prayer. Either the Speaker or Presiding Officer requests that all in attendance stand. Senate sessions are always "blessed" by a Senate Chaplain or another sectarian officiant. Senate attendees are always asked to stand.
Both the House and Senate have poor track records when it come to upholding the Establishment Clause. FFRF's co-presidents note that of the 84 House prayers reviewed from last year and two from this year, the vast majority referenced Christianity and invoked "Jesus" or "Christ" explicitly. Of last year's 74 Senate prayers and two from this year, nearly all had Christian undertones or were explicitly Christian.
In an example of one such prayer, Senate Chaplain Milner directly invoked the Christian god: "Lord, you’ve called us to value yourself, above all things, because you are the most valuable thing, Lord. So Lord Jesus, we ask you to drive far from all wrong desires and incline our heart to keep your way. . . . Through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen." (Listen to Feb. 8, 2011 audio below.)
In other prayers Rev. Milner has quoted scripture.
Rep. Jimmy Dixon once opened a House session with, “Heavenly Father, we thank thee for the most precious gift ever given, the gift of thy Son to atone for our sins.” (Listen to audio below.)
The prayers not only conflict with the Constitution, notes Gaylor, but also with biblical teachings. FFRF's letter cites that Christians who know their bible are familiar with the injunction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, condemning as hypocrisy public prayer: “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.” (Matthew 6:5-6).
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over North Carolina, ruled in 2011 in Joyner v. Forsyth County, N.C., that sectarian prayers during Forsyth County Commissioners meetings were unconstitutional. In January the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Joyner decision. This ruling joins three other Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that stress the impropriety of sectarian prayers.
"Representatives do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time and dime. Instead of handling state business, Representatives and Senators are reading or listening to entire bible passages or prayers as long as 1,000 words," says Barker.
FFRF urges the North Carolina Senate and House of Representatives to drop government prayer and end the Senate Chaplain position.
FFRF would like to thank the Triangle Freethought Society for the diligent work of chapter members in transcribing most of the prayers.
Read the Prayers
Listen to Audio
Senate Prayers delivered by the Senate Chaplain: