The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a Tennessee school board to rescind its proclamation to dub Nov. 7 as “Billy Graham Day.”
The state-church watchdog has sent a warning letter to the Claiborne County School Board in Tazewell, Tenn., after it recently declared Nov. 7 “Billy Graham Day” in the district, proclaiming that each school “would be free to celebrate the life of the famous evangelist, in any way it so chooses.”
Media reported that a county attorney urged the board to revoke the announcement because it is a violation of a 1988 court order prohibiting the district from proselytizing. FFRF notes in its letter that, even absent the court order, the district’s “endorsement of a man who is famous only for evangelizing is inappropriate and unconstitutional.”
Graham was a Christian minister known primarily for his evangelical religious views, soul-winning crusades and his multimillion-dollar empire, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.
“By instructing district schools to celebrate such an individual, the district implicitly endorses that icon’s religious message, which is inappropriate for a secular school district,” write FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker. “It thereby turns Christian students, particularly evangelical or fundamentalist Christian students, into insiders, and non-Christian students into outsiders.”
FFRF points out that had Graham been known mainly for secular achievements, as was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it would be a different situation. But Graham’s career was devoted to revivals, Christian conversions, fire-and-brimstone preaching and the insertion of his brand of religion into what is supposed to be a secular government founded on a godless Constitution.
Furthermore, as FFRF highlights in its letter, Graham has a dubious history of divisive viewpoints including anti-LGBTQ sentiments and private expressions of anti-Semitism.
“Your actions endorsing this Christian figure alienate, exclude and insult many local taxpayers, parents and students, including nonbelievers, the LGBTQ community, Jews and other non-Christians, as well as those who revere our First Amendment’s principle of separation between church and state,” conclude Gaylor and Barker.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including more than 300 members in Tennessee and a chapter in Knoxville. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.