This op-ed piece was sent to all Wisconsin dailies before Good Friday.
By Annie Laurie Gaylor
One of the more popular bumpersticker slogans of the Freedom From Religion Foundation reads: "Nothing Fails Like Prayer." Think about it. Could anything be more useless than beseeching supernatural assistance, or indulging in wishful thinking to try to suspend the laws of nature? Our cemeteries, after all, are full of people who prayed to live. The unanswered prayers would ﬁll our universe!
If private citizens choose to pray instead of taking useful action to solve a problem themselves, that is their business. But here in Wisconsin, those of us who eschew prayer become criminals each year on Good Friday.
Few people know about Wisconsin statute 895.20, which orders: "On Good Friday the period from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. shall uniformly be observed for the purpose of worship."
This statute is ﬂagrantly unconstitutional, giving legislative preference to the worship of Christianity, mandating citizens' behavior over one religion's holy day, and violating our Wisconsin Constitution. The state constitution guarantees that the state may not interfere with the "rights of conscience," which Statute 895.20 clearly does, nor shall "any preference be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship" (Article 1, Section 18).
If the Good Friday statute were broadly enforced, the results would be tyranny. Could shopkeepers be hauled off to jail for staying open during these hours? Could freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, Jews and other nonChristians be arrested for failure to observe the Christian worship of Good Friday? Currently, the effect of this statute is to close down public institutions. Public schools, the University of Wisconsin, city and state government buildings, and libraries close. The Freedom From Religion Foundation regularly receives complaints from UW students who are inconvenienced when college libraries close to observe Good Friday.
This state/church violation creates contempt for religious freedom. Even more pernicious, I believe, is the fallacious idea that an observance of prayer is a praiseworthy accomplishment.
That is why the Freedom From Religion Foundation annually challenges freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) to set an example for Christians by "doing good" on Good Friday. As the l9th-century freethought orator Robert Ingersoll observed, "The hands that help are better far than lips that pray."
This Good Friday challenge originated with a stalwart volunteer from Alabama, freethinker Pat Cleveland, who explains: "It's not that freethinkers aren't good every day. What triggered my idea was that this would be a way to make it truly a good day, if freethinkers in the country would be visibly helping."
Since many people are given the day or afternoon off from work in order to pray, many of our Foundation members take the opportunity to volunteer instead, including: helping the elderly, neighbors and children, escorting women patients at abortion clinics, donating blood, participating in other needy causes, donating money or doing something in support of the very precious principle of state/church separation.
The Attorney General of Wisconsin should issue a long overdue opinion striking the unconstitutional mandate to worship on "Good Friday" from our statute books. But, in the meantime, Wisconsin citizens interested in making this Friday a "good" day should skip the prayers, and do something truly useful or helpful with the extra time.