FFRF schools Maine on prayer caucus
FFRF sent an educational memo Jan. 23 to Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Legislative Prayer Caucus to highlight the historical fallacies, contradictions and inaccuracies in the “Call to Prayer for Maine” signed on Jan. 17.
The memo represents a viewpoint shared by the 25% of Maine citizens who self-identify as nonreligious. The memo discusses how the caucus is a misuse of civil power and how it ignores the 45 million Americans who “do not draw hope, strength, or comfort by supplicating to invisible means of support.”
“It is a perversion of history to claim that our Constitution stems from ‘faith-based principles,’ ” the memo said. “Our government is based on the idea, an anti-biblical idea, that ‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed.’ Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution repudiate the idea of a god-given government. The Prayer Proclamation renounces the democratic ideal in favor of the divine right to rule that our country rebelled against in 1776.”
The Maine Legislative Prayer Caucus is affiliated with Pray USA, an initiative of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation Inc., which seeks to “preserve the Judeo-Christian heritage of our nation and protect American religious liberty.”
More than 150 people, including about 50 legislators — mostly Republicans and a few Democrats — participated in a ceremony Jan. 18 to announce that Maine is the sixth state to formalize a legislative prayer group.
“Not only is it untrue that our ‘rights come from almighty God,’ as the proclamation declares, it is a shameful negation of the true cost of freedom,” FFRF’s memo said. “This idea ignores the sacrifice of those who gave their lives to secure our freedom and by attributing to God what our forebears worked so hard to achieve denigrates what is arguably the greatest human triumph in all of history — our country.”
FFRF also debunked the idea that “In God We Trust” somehow lends credence to the “Christian nation” myth and instead shows that the motto is the divisive result of fearmongering. “The Prayer Caucus offensively and incorrectly asserts that people need religion to be moral. This statement shows far more about those who ascribe to it than those who don’t (and it’s not pretty).”
FFRF invited the Prayer Caucus “to get off your knees and get to work.”
The Associated Press reported Jan. 23 that four Republican Mississippi state senators introduced a resolution to create a Legislative Prayer and Ministry Caucus.
The resolution said the caucus would “encourage, train and support legislative leaders in every field who believe in the power of prayer and ministry, and to highlight the vital role that prayer and Judeo-Christian principles have played in the history of our Nation and our state in strengthening the fabric of our society, at all times consistent with the progress of our state and with the well-being of our fellow Mississippians.”
Without debate, the Senate sent the resolution back to the Rules Committee, a move that likely killed the resolution. Thanks to Andrew Seidel, Constitutional consultant, for his work on the Maine memo.
FFRF warns about prayer in schools
In a Jan. 10 letter of complaint to Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven, Conn., FFRF cautioned against “taking an unconstitutional proposal to ‘put prayer back in schools’ seriously.” Newly elected City Clerk Ronald Smith proposed prayer as a technique to lower crime rates at his inauguration ceremony.
“Mr. Smith is offending large numbers of young people and their parents with such inappropriate pronouncements. In claiming that prayer would lower crime, Mr. Smith is implying that nonbelievers are criminals, an idea that is at once insulting and ignorant,” wrote Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
Studies have shown that there is no scientific data to support Smith’s claim tying heightened crime rates to non-theism. One study found atheists are only 0.2% of prisoners, highly underrepresented.
FFRF’s letter cited research by prominent sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who says, “Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread. And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.”
“The purpose of schools is to educate, not to promote religion. Schoolchildren are young, impressionable and vulnerable to adult and peer pressure,” Gaylor said. “The exercise of religion must be left to the individual and religious education left to the family.”
The letter cited other studies debunking Smith’s “insulting” smear of nonbelievers. “In fact religious belief is linked to immorality. The unwholesome doctrine of ‘original sin’ can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rejection of religious claims is intellectual and respectable,” Gaylor added.
FFRF files complaint about church rally
FFRF filed a complaint in early January with the Internal Revenue Service over questionable campaign intervention activities at Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Rep. Michele Bachmann appeared at the church in what appeared to be a quest to garner last-minute votes, days before the Iowa Republican Caucus. On Jan. 1, she arrived to a crowd bearing “Bachmann for President” signs and buttons. A table at the back of the church displayed election material.
Pastor Bill Tvedt and Bachmann addressed the Sunday worship service with a mixture of campaign rhetoric and prayer. Tvedt’s final remarks to Bachmann were, “God bless you, you’re awesome.”
“Pastor Bill Tvedt inappropriately used his position as pastor of Jubilee Family Church to intervene in a political campaign. He violated IRS regulations by voicing his support for Michele Bachmann,” wrote FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in the IRS complaint.
The race for the Republican nomination had been a topic of interest at Jubliee Family Church for several weeks prior to the Iowa Caucus. Tvedt had previously personally endorsed Bachmann and Tvedt had given a politically themed sermon series, “Spirit of Big Government.” Tvedt also urged the congregation to “Choose a Leader of Biblical Standards.”
No church statement indicated other Republican candidates had ever been invited to address the congregation.
The IRS strictly prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations, which include churches and other religious organizations, from taking part in political campaigns.
Video taken after the service (available on C-SPAN) captured Bachmann lobbying for votes: “I’m glad you came this morning. I’d love to have your vote on the 3rd.”
“FFRF respectfully requests that the IRS commence an immediate investigation to determine whether Pastor Tvedt violated IRS regulations prohibiting Jubilee Family Church from participating in and/or intervening in a political campaign,” wrote Markert.
Water tower crosses draw FFRF scrutiny
FFRF sent a Dec. 20 letter of complaint to Mayor Patrick Kitching in Alsip, Ill., asking for removal of an unlawful Latin cross that is displayed annually on the village water tower. An area resident took issue with the cross after it was erected in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The cross is illuminated at night and visible from Interstate 294.
“The display of a cross on government buildings and water towers has long been found to be a violation of the Establishment Clause,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
Earlier in December, FFRF brought suit against Whiteville, Tenn., on behalf of one of its members who objected to crosses at the Whiteville municipal building and on the water tower.
“The government must stay out of the religion business. Private individuals remain free to celebrate holidays as they see fit,” noted Elliott.
FFRF Alert protests franking misuse
FFRF sent an Action Alert to members in December about U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who sent an inappropriate religious message to her constituents Dec. 24. Her letter started with “Wishing You a Merry Christmas. . . Even if I’m not supposed to” and ended with a rant in support of religion and her dislike for the Franking Commission.
“Franking” is a tax-supported “free postage” privilege for members of Congress. Franking resources may only be used to inform constituents of an important matter. Taxpayers should not have to subsidize communications that pander to religion.
Franking law “prohibits the use of the frank for any card or message expressing holiday greetings for any traditional holiday, for example, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.”