Foundation Protests Papal Deference

The Freedom From Religion Foundation protested various overly-cozy governmental actions appearing to endorse Roman Catholicism following the death of noncitizen Pope John Paul II.

Among the violations the Foundation expressed dismay over was Pres. George W. Bush’s order that federal flags be placed at half-mast from the time of the pope’s death on April 2 to his burial on April 8.

Most egregious was the decision by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to give state employees a paid half-holiday on the day of the pope’s funeral. (The pope, due to the time difference, had been long-buried by the time employees were given their holiday.) That decision cost taxpayers more than a million dollars, based on an estimate in the 1990s that it would cost $2.4 million to grant state employees a full day off when a state holiday to honor Cesar Chavez was considered.

The New Mexican, on April 7, 2005, quoted Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president, as saying:

Our government does not have a religion; it’s religion-free. They can mourn privately, but it can’t be a public expense.”

“Here you have a Catholic governor; this is very unseemly of him. It’s kind of a slap in the face for Protestants, to say nothing of the nonreligious and Jewish. If a world-leading Muslim died, would they get half a day off? No.”

The news story also detailed the Foundation’s Good Friday legal victory in Wisconsin, which overturned a state law granting a paid half-holiday to observe that Christian holiday. Workers now receive a floating half-holiday.

Gaylor was also interviewed for “Marketplace” about the ramifications, by reporter Matthew Algeo, in a program airing on National Public Radio affiliates.

The Foundation took exception to orders such as those by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle to lower flags at half-mast for the week to “grieve” for the pope. The Foundation noted this gave the appearance of “an endorsement of Roman Catholicism over other religious viewpoints.”

“The pope was the world’s leading sexist,” said Gaylor. “Why should Wisconsin women be expected to revere his anti-woman, antediluvian teachings?”

She pointed out that he called gays “evil,” in need of psychiatric treatment and condemned gay unions as a “grave depravity.”

“The greatest documented sexual abuse of children in world history occurred under his watch,” Gaylor reminded Doyle. Thanks to Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions in favor of the Catholic Church, such abuse victims have fewer legal rights in Wisconsin than in any other state, she charged.

Gov. Doyle issued a statement on the pope’s death saying that the pope’s “legacy will continue well into the future.” Gaylor noted that is all too true–a legacy in which much of the world has been deprived of birth control, the right to divorce, or to die with dignity, and in which the church is fighting to halt stem cell research that will lead to medical breakthroughs for suffering patients.

Gaylor noted that one of the final statements by the pope was to libel as “murderers” those who supported removal of the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a nonreversible persistent vegetative state finally permitted to die in late March.

Gaylor especially criticized the pope’s political interference with the United States when he ordered that U.S. Catholic politicians “vote in lockstep with Church doctrine.”

The Foundation office received complaints from members of the public around the country who noticed U.S. flags at half-mast at polling sites, public schools and public buildings. Many freethinkers contacted the Foundation indicating they were weary of the weeklong media popefest, with journalistic standards of objectivity dropped for adulatory hagiographies of the pope’s legacy.

Foundation members who do not have access to the Internet may send a No. 10 (business-sized), self-addressed, stamped envelope requesting “The Pope Has No Vestments” to FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701.

Freedom From Religion Foundation