FFRF contests turning Legislature into church

Pastor rails against usual suspects in Oklahoma House

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint March 13 to Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele to protest scheduling prayers to open House of Representative sessions and permitting “Chaplain of the Week” remarks to the House on Thursdays.

FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote the letter after receiving complaints from Oklahomans who objected to the overtly Christian prayers. FFRF is a national state-church watchdog with over 17,500 members across the U.S., including over 100 in Oklahoma and a chapter in Tulsa.

The letter noted that prayers are usually delivered by Christian clergy and are typically sectarian, often ending “In Jesus’ name.” Most recently, on March 1, Pastor Bill Ledbetter of Fairview Baptist Church offended many with his sectarian devotional and prayer.

"During his remarks, which sounded more like a sermon than an address to elected officials, he brought up several hot-button issues, including intelligent design, same-sex marriage and abortion. Ledbetter also quoted scripture extensively and frequently shouted 'hallelujah!' "

 Ledbetter's remarks [see full transcription in linked letter] included:

• "[The biblical] James talks about three characteristics of God there. First of all, God is good, hallelujah. Through and through and through, and he is the giver of every good thing like hot buttered popcorn, ice cold tea, freshly laundered towels, a beautiful sunset, a good horse. My riding buddy he says that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man and you know what, he’s right. God is good, he’s a giver of good things and he is the giver of every perfect thing. And do you know what, the most perfect thing that God has given to us is his son, Jesus Christ."

• "Do you know that God has an eraser? It’s like the little girl who was out with her daddy and watching at an air show where an airplane using smoke wrote something across the sky. And then, after a little bit, that writing began to dissipate in the wind of the atmosphere, and the little girl looked at Daddy and she said, 'Look daddy, God has an eraser.' And I’m gonna tell you something, that God has an eraser and that eraser is in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and he rose from the dead and there on that cross he shed his blood for you and me.”

• “And now, all across our nation, kids are taught that they are advanced mutations of a baboon. They are taught that they came from a monkey. Let me tell you something, evolution is not science and I know that’s not politically correct. But what it is, is an indoctrination to teach a godless worldview. And it defies our founding documents; our forefathers talked about the Creator in the Declaration of Independence. Read it. Hallelujah!”

• "This body has begun to take some courageous steps and I applaud you. And we need you; do the right thing. We need to overturn the shedding of innocent blood of this land. Fifty million babies; you know where they all are? All those babies on the crystal sea before God. I can see 'em out there on the sea; coochie-coo. And look at God the Father; aaah. If you shed innocent blood, as we have for 50 years, there’s no nation that has ever survived that, beloved. ”

• “And let me tell you something, it’s no coincidence that Katrina came on board the day before [the gay Southern Decadence festival] began in New Orleans, Louisiana. I promise you God is sovereign.”

FFRF's letter notes that prayer at government meetings is "unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive. Calling upon Oklahoma House members and citizens to rise and pray is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular state government. House members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time."

"Weekly devotionals" such as Ledbetter's (which at 2,700 words is only about 2,000 words less than the entire unamended U.S. Constitution) "turn the House session into a worship service," FFRF said.

"Pastor Ledbetter’s often political 'remarks' were intended to proselytize not only the legislators in attendance, but also the Oklahoman citizens who were visiting the Capitol and those viewing the proceedings online. . . . Any assertion that these 'remarks' are intended to simply solemnize the session is negated by Pastor Ledbetter’s obvious proselytizing and political diatribe."

FFRF urged Speaker Steele to discontinue all official government prayers before legislative meetings.

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.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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