Giving Thanks For State/Church Separation (December 1995)

The Foundation’s campaign to counter religious proclamations by U.S. officials has borne some fruit.

“Giving Thanks for State/Church Separation” this Thanksgiving were mayors as diverse as Richard A. Wollangk, Oshkosh, WI; Bob Jacobs, Olympia, WA; Barbara Bohannan-Sheppard, Chester, PA; Carol G. Hanson, Boca Raton, FL; Tom Hunt, Indio, CA; and William E. Ward, Chesapeake, VA.

The Foundation requested a secular proclamation for Thanksgiving and asked officials to name January “Celebrate State/Church Separation Month.” The goal is to educate public officials about the Establishment Clause and to discourage future religious proclamations–such as “Bible Week” and “Christian Heritage Week,” both traditionally proclaimed over Thanksgiving Week.

The National Laymen’s Bible Association annually hounds mayors to issue “Bible Week” proclamations declaring the bible to be our nation’s “founding document.”

The Foundation’s “Give Thanks for State/Church Separation” Week (see page three) recites the history of the adoption of state/church separation as a unique American principle, concluding:

“Let this Thanksgiving act as a reminder of the precious tradition of freedom of religion–and, if we so choose, freedom from religion–and the wisdom of keeping government and religion forever separate.”

As of press time, no governors have yet obliged with a secular proclamation.

“We don’t mind being turned down by the Montana governor, who indicates no proclamations are being made because of cutbacks. But we do regard it as the height of arrogance to be turned down by governors or mayors who routinely issue religious proclamations,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of Freethought Today.

One such mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore, admitted to “proudly” proclaiming hundreds of religious proclamations.

Most governors who have turned down the Foundation’s request have indicated a willingness to entertain proclamations hosted by citizens or groups from their state.

There is still time for activists who belong to the Foundation to request, as citizens or through local groups, a mayoral or gubernatorial proclamation declaring January to be “Celebrate State/Church Separation Month.”

Wisconsin citizens received a “triple-whammy of Christian instructions from Governor Tommy Thompson for how to observe Thanksgiving,” observed Gaylor. He proclaimed Nov. 19-26 “Bible Week,” “Christian Heritage Week” and made a separate “Thanksgiving Day” proclamation in which he declared “it is appropriate to give thanks to God for the everyday freedoms that the people of the United States so often take for granted.”

Although Thompson declared “Bible Week” on behalf of the Laymen’s National Bible Association, which is based in New York, he spurned the Wisconsin-based Foundation’s request to honor the Constitution.

“Thompson freely proclaims days of prayer, bible weeks, clergy appreciation months and other inappropriate gubernatorial declarations, while refusing to honor the very Constitution that he, as governor, takes an oath to uphold!” Gaylor said.

“Thompson has it backward–misusing his secular, publicly-supported office to promote religion, while rejecting a chance to affirm the First Amendment.”

She said no public official has any business dictating to citizens to read and study the bible, to participate in prayer, or to use public office to trumpet the “all important role of Christian heritage.”

In examining state records, Gaylor found that Thompson has issued hundreds of proclamations for 1995, including “Chili Week” (“Whereas, the history of chili is interwoven with the rich history of the American pioneer spirit”); “Celebrate Hosiery Week,” “Clown Week,” and “Loyalty Day” (“We urgently need a vigorous display of true red, white and blue Americanism”). Thompson declared October both “Clergy Appreciation Month” and “Meditation Month” and November “Lamb and Wool Month.”

“Is Thompson saying these are more important than respecting our First Amendment?”

So far one mayor has already named January “Celebrate State/Church Separation Month.”

Mayor Barbara Bohannan-Sheppard of Chester, PA, issued that proclamation at the same time she “gave thanks for state/church separation.”

This proclamation honors Thomas Jefferson and the “wall of separation between Church and State” (a phrase coined in a letter written by President Jefferson on January 1, 1802).

“Advocates of state/church separation are losing the PR war,” observed Gaylor. “Never before has this principle been so maligned in the media or so neglected by public officials. We hope these proclamations will provide a vehicle for state/church supporters to assert themselves and to re-educate the public about the importance of our country’s secular tradition.”

Thanks to Foundation members George J. Meyer, M.D. and Virginia R. Meyer of Florida, for requesting that their mayor “give thanks for state/church separation.” Their efforts brought a proclamation from Mayor Carol G. Hanson of Baca Raton.

Keep Freethought Today posted on any efforts you have made to promote these secular proclamations. If successful, please send a copy of the proclamation promptly so we may report it and place it on file. For a copy of either proclamation, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Proclamations, Freethought Today, P.O. Box 750, Madison WI 53701 or phone (608)256-8900.

Freedom From Religion Foundation