Action Alert

Oppose Pennsylvania 'Prayer Month' resolution!

Update: Unfortunately this resolution passed 189-2 shortly after this action alert was sent out, so please contact the lawmakers below and make a fuss.

Below is a copy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's letter objecting to Pennsylvania House Resolution 922, "Recognizing October 2012 as 'Prayer Month' in Pennsylvania."

Please take a moment to phone and/or email Pennsylvania House Speaker Samuel Smith (717-787-3845) and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (717-787-3566) as well as Pennsylvania representatives. Tell them that it is inappropriate and exclusionary to designate October as "Prayer Month." If you are a Pennsylvania resident please also contact your representative and identify yourself as a state citizen. Click here to find your representative. (Refer to the upper right hand corner of the page). 

Thank you for your help!


(Click here to view the PDF version.) 

October 17, 2012

SENT VIA MAIL & FAX

Hon. Samuel Smith
Speaker of the House
139 Main Capitol Building
PO Box 202066
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Hon. Frank Dermody
House Minority Leader
423 Main Capitol Building
PO Box 202033
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Speaker Smith and Minority Leader Dermody:

We are writing on behalf of the 19,000 members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, including nearly 700 Pennsylvania members, regarding continued unconstitutional action by the House of Representatives. It is truly dismaying that members of the House continue to abuse their office by seeking to advance a religious agenda. Twenty representatives introduced a so-called “noncontroversial resolution” on October 15th to recognize October as “Prayer Month.” House Resolution 922 is scheduled for a vote today. These are not “noncontroversial” resolutions; they are divisive and should not be put up for a vote by House leadership. You must stop the House of Representatives, which is charged with representing all citizens, from being used for gratuitous pandering to a select religious constituency.

The “Prayer Month” resolution is part of a continuing pattern of inappropriate promotion of religion by House members. We understand that not one, but two prayers were offered this morning to open the session, one of which was a sectarian prayer referencing Jesus. (Enclosed is a copy of our April 4, 2012 letter of complaint over this unconstitutional practice.) Earlier this year, the House adopted HR 609 designating May 3, 2012 as the “National Day of Prayer” in Pennsylvania. (Enclosed is our letter of complaint over that violation.) Infamously, the House declared the entire year of 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania, and had the temerity to direct citizens to “study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.” (Enclosed is FFRF’s letter.)

Just this month, United States District Judge Christopher Conner, in deciding a lawsuit brought by FFRF, chastised the House over its declaration of the “Year of the Bible:”

The court is compelled to shine a clear, on this resolution because it pushes the Establishment Clause envelope behind the safety glass of legislative immunity. That it passed unanimously is even more alarming. This judicial rebuke of the resolution is not intended to impugn the religious beliefs of any citizen. To the contrary, the court's disapprobation is directed to the blatant use of legislative resources in contravention of the spirit — if not the letter — of the Establishment Clause. At a time when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania faces massive public policy challenges, these resources would be far better utilized in meaningful legislative efforts for the benefit all of the citizens of the Commonwealth, regardless of their religious beliefs. 

FFRF v. Saccone, No. 1:12-cv-00536-CCC (M.D. Pa. Order Oct. 1, 2012).

When will House leadership put a stop to representatives’ misuse of House sessions as vehicles to proselytize citizens? They have gone overboard. Legislators have now encouraged citizens to engage in religious rituals for a day, a month, and even a year.

The irony in the opening statement of HR 922 should not be lost on citizens. It states: “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania holds that all men have the right to worship according to the dictates of their consciences and no human authority can control or interfere with this right.” This recitation of Art. 1, Sec. 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution is being violated in the remainder of the very same resolution. The resolution calls on citizens to engage in a religious ritual: prayer. This grandstanding resolution says, “To millions of people across the world, prayer is recognized as the most important utterance for the benefit of humankind.” The resolution further states that “Prayer Month is a time to ask for healing for ourselves and the nation.”

Whether to pray, whether to believe in a god who answers prayer, is an intensely precious and personal decision protected under the Pennsylvania Constitution and our First Amendment as a paramount matter of conscience. H.R. 922 is a rebuke to the legacy of William Penn, who was one of the earliest champions of freedom of conscience.

A declared state month of prayer is far beyond the bounds of constitutionally permissible activity. The resolution constitutes government speech that encourages the citizenry to engage in religious activity. This has no secular purpose. The Colorado Court of Appeals said as much when it ruled for FFRF, finding that Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations by the Governor had a religious purpose and endorsed religion. FFRF. v. Hickenlooper, 2012 COA 81 (Colo. Ct. App. 2012). The court said, “A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations send the message that those who pray are favored members of [the state] political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.” Id. ¶ 119.

You can imagine the outrage were the House to issue a resolution asking citizens to refrain from prayer. The government has no authority to urge prayer or urge citizens not to pray. Decisions about prayer and the efficacy of prayer must be left to the individual conscience. The Pennsylvania House has no business telling citizens to pray, much less what to pray for (note the “laundry list” prescribed in the resolution), much less to set aside the entire month for prayer!

This resolution comes at a particularly troubling time. Earlier this month, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe abused his position as State Government Committee Chair to condemn Rep. Babette Josephs for her refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Rep. Josephs stated that she viewed the pledge as a prayer given the insertion of “under god” into it in the 1950’s, when Congress tampered with the previously secular pledge. Rep. Metcalfe reportedly told reporters, “It’s a person’s right not to say the pledge, but I don't believe anybody should be in elected office that holds that position, and I think a majority of Americans wouldn't elect somebody if they held that position." The timing of HR 922 with these comments further signals to citizens that those who are religious are favored and the nonreligious are disfavored.

This resolution comes at a time when PEW has released results of its latest survey into the views of citizens, showing that fully one-fifth of adult Americans now call themselves “nonreligious,” choosing no religion, and about a quarter of young people choose “none of the above” when it comes to faith. Metcalfe’s bigoted remarks are an insult to freedom of conscience and to 20% to 25% of freethinking Pennsylvanians.

Many nonbelievers see the intellectual harm of government-hyped prayer. HR 922 is indicative of that harm. As previously noted, the resolution claims “prayer is recognized as the most important utterance for the benefit of humankind.” On the contrary, our members think nothing fails like prayer. The unanswered prayers could fill the universe and our cemeteries of full of people who prayed to live. The problems we face — and they are major — will not be fixed by human beings saying “We give up; we can’t solve these problems ourselves; it’s up to an imaginary supernatural creature to rescue us.” Problems will only be solved using informed reason, human ingenuity, and resolve. The final clause of the resolution says, “we must also recognize the hunger and devastation of many that have suffered through tragedy.” As nonbelievers, we know that prayer does not cure hunger and devastation, rather, concerted action by caring individuals aids those in need.

HR 922 declaring October as “Prayer Month” is controversial. House leadership should not continue to let such inappropriate resolutions reach the House floor. The resolution excludes many nonreligious citizens in your state and violates federal and state constitutional proscriptions against religious preference. We reiterate our call for the House to get off its knees and get to work. Leave the religious posturing to private citizens and houses of worship, which are free, unlike government officials, to proselytize.

Very truly,

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
FFRF Co-Presidents

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