FFRF rains on papal parade

With so much of America agog and on its collective knees for Pope Francis’ visit to America, including a first-ever papal address to a joint session of Congress, FFRF went on the offensive with a series of statements protesting state/church entanglement.

How entangled was it? The day after the pope’s speech to Congress, House Speaker John Boehner resigned his seat (for unrelated reasons). GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush had this reaction: “John Boehner dedicated his life to public service. Bringing the Holy Father to Congress was a fitting cap to a great career.”

FFRF sponsored full-page ads (see pages 12-13) Sept. 24 in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and Philadelphia Inquirer to explain why it’s wrong for a religious leader to address Congress. It also sponsored a 30-second spot on ABC “World News Tonight” featuring President John Kennedy as a candidate making his famous remarks to Houston pastors: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”
The same ad ran in more than 20 major metro areas during “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” but CBS refused to air it nationally.

The New York Times’ Sept. 17 edition featured a story headlined “An Atheist Group Asks, Should New York Be in the Pope Business?” It detailed FFRF’s efforts, including:

• A letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticizing the city’s ticket giveaway and staff involvement in the pope’s Central Park “procession.” The visit was estimated to cost taxpayers at least $1.5 million.

• A letter to Boehner asking him to invite an atheist dignitary, Richard Dawkins, to address a joint session of Congress to balance the score.

• Protesting use of Pennsylvania prison inmates to build a hand-carved walnut chair for the pope.

• Contacting President Barack Obama to protest the official website promotion of the pope’s devotional events, including a Sept. 23 White House visit, and its invitation to citizens to sign up for alerts about the pope.

Co-President started her Sept. 24 blog: “I’m in Philadelphia to provide a feminist/secular voice with a speech at the Ethical Society on the eve of the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, which is taking over the city.”

She wrote that Francis “has been harder to criticize, sounding more like a real human being. And I think that’s the real danger — putting a pretty face on Catholic dogma, which has not budged.”

She noted that Francis responded to criticism of his canonization of Junipero Serra, the father of the missionary system, by saying that missionaries’ first contacts with Native Americans were “often turbulent and violent.”

“After his remarks to U.S. bishops praising their ‘courage’ in dealing with the pain of systemic predation by Catholic officials against minors, he had the gall to mention the young being subject to ‘violence, abuse and despair.’ Talk about a jarring note.

“But it doesn’t really matter what the pope said during his joint address to Congress. Even had I or you agreed with everything the pope said, it was still unfitting, unprecedented, unconstitutional, that a religious figure was invited, for the first time in history, to make such remarks before a joint session of Congress. . . . What distresses me the most is the spectacle of a deferential and adoring Congress turning out and giving a standing ovation to a religious leader of such a powerful religion, the huge screens for onlookers outside, the governmental websites devoted to promoting the pope’s visit including devotional events — all of this put on by our secular government at taxpayer expense. The symbolism of our government united with the Catholic Church is the worst message.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation