From Alabama gov to White House

Government officials just ‘pray without ceasing’

Statement by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation

What a disappointment to see the White House side with congressional Republicans and theocrats in the upcoming Supreme Court case over opening town councils almost exclusively with Christian prayer.

The Obama administration just submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of the town of Greece, N.Y., and the Alliance Defending Freedom, the arch-Religious Right legal group defending the town’s Christian prayer policy. Besides promoting religion in government, ADF primarily works to overturn abortion rights and obstruct marriage equality.

The high court accepted the town’s appeal of a strong decision by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that ruled the practice of opening government meetings with Christian prayer is unconstitutional.

The development is highly troubling, with court watchers speculating the case gives the conservative majority a chance to overturn Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s “endorsement” standard. Under the former justice’s test, a government act violates the First Amendment if it appears to endorse religion.

We’re watching this case closely at FFRF, which will be submitting a friend of the court brief, because one of the most common state/church complaints we receive from members is over inappropriate government prayer. In fact, FFRF had its start back in 1976 because of encountering (and eventually stopping) prayer before the city council in Madison, Wis.

The lawsuit against Greece was brought on behalf of two female residents, one atheist and one Jewish, by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Beside U.S. federal government officials, other politicians giving aid and succor to the Christian Right include 85 House members and 34 senators who joined two amicus briefs. Of the representatives, all but one — Mike McIntyre of North Carolina — are Republicans. Of the senators, all but one are Republicans (Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana). 

Nearly half of state attorneys general (23) signed onto a brief filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has taken several vicious public potshots at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

When so few Democrats broke ranks to endorse unadulterated Christian preaching at local government meetings, it is doubly disappointing that the Obama administration would choose to ally with its political enemies to further entangle religion and government.

Prayer in government is truly running amok. Late last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley chimed in to publicly condemn FFRF for our work to stop the third annual “prayer caravan” called by Cullman County Superintendent Billy Coleman.

Coleman organized and spoke at a Christian rally Aug. 10 before the event, quoting the bible’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” The outrageous “caravan” involved prayerful crowds visiting some 29 public schools .

Bentley said: "I personally believe that one of the problems we have in this country is taking God out of, not only our lives, but out of government.”

One of the biggest problems we have in this country is pandering public officials who misuse their civil authority to push their personal religious views on the rest of us. Government shouldn’t have a prayer.

Our message to pious politicians remains: Get off your knees and get to work.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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