Gov't prayer: 'Not in my backyard'

FFRF protests state prayer declarations

The Freedom From Religion Foundation takes issue with calls for state days of prayer in South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog with over 17,500 members nationwide.

"Under our secular Constitution, elected officials have neither the moral nor the constitutional authority to exhort constituents to pray, much less to set aside an entire day for prayer every year," noted Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are attempting to establish a state "National Day of Prayer" under House Resolution 609. An almost identical National Day of Prayer proposal was passed last year.

House Resolution 609 is considered to be "noncontroversial" under Pennsylvania House Rule 35. This resolution is controversial! Deeming a resolution "noncontroversial" is an easy way for the legislature to fast track a controversial issue. These resolutions are then considered to be "uncontested" and are placed on the calendar to be "voted by a single roll-call vote."

FFRF was recently involved in a particularly egregious Pennsylvania violation when the House declared 2012 the "Year of the Bible."

South Carolina's Bill 4139, which passed the House last year, was just passed by a Senate committee and would mandate a State Day of Prayer. South Carolina legislators have been attempting to establish the first Thursday in May as the official State Day of Prayer for nearly a year.

"The National Day of Prayer is not a day for all people. It specifically excludes those who are nonbelievers and those who do not wish to have their government involved in matters of personal conscience, such as whether to pray and what to pray about," wrote FFRF Co-Presidents Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor in a letter to Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Sam Smith and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody.

As U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb rightly ruled in FFRF's 2010 lawsuit over the National Day of Prayer: "The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy. Congress may no more declare a National Day of Prayer than it may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic."

The National Day of Prayer has strong ties to Christianity, as it originated with Rev. Billy Graham in 1952. He led a crusade in Washington D.C., petitioning the President to establish an annual proclamation in the name of "the Lord Jesus Christ." Today the National Day of Prayer is designated on the first Thursday in May. (Both state bills would coincide the state day of prayer with the national date.)

FFRF urges both states to "drop these divisive and unconstitutional" bills. 

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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