The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting the use of resources from roughly a dozen South Florida police departments for an upcoming prayerful affair.
Local residents have informed FFRF that officers from around the region are putting together a "Pray with a Cop" event on Thursday, May 3. This will operate "kind of like the drive-through at McDonalds," to quote the Miami Herald, where citizens pull up and then uniformed police pray over and for them. Officers arranging this are part of the Miami-Dade Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers.
The event is an unconstitutional use of official resources, FFRF contends.
"While officers are free to organize private religious worship services on their own time and in their own way, they cannot be permitted to use police department resources for a religious event," FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to two of the police departments involved. "If, as the report suggests, these officers will be appearing in their official capacity — or if their appearance will indicate that they are praying in their official capacity, i.e., they are in uniform and identifying themselves as police officers — then this event raises serious legal problems."
The U.S. Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment "mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion," FFRF reminds the police departments. Using a government title and uniform to promote personal religious beliefs gives the unfortunate and impermissible impression that the government supports and endorses those particular religious beliefs. Further, the use of a government title and uniform represents the kind of indirect governmental aid in support of sectarian institutions that the Florida Constitution expressly prohibits.
Today, nearly one-quarter of Americans, 24 percent, are "Nones," or religiously unaffiliated, with nearly 30 percent overall non-Christian, either practicing a minority religion or no religion at all, FFRF adds. Of younger Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, they are largely atheist or agnostic. A recent survey found that 21 percent of Americans born after 1999 are atheist or agnostic. These citizens should not be made to feel like outsiders in their community, nor should they be led to understand that their police force prefers prayer to action.
The Miami-Dade Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers is contending that gun violence has spurred the call to prayer. But more prayer is the last thing we need as an answer to this scourge, FFRF suggests. The inspirational survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting have said it well. Emma Gonzalez, speaking with deep emotion, said, "We are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it's time for victims to be the change that we need to see."
FFRF is requesting that the departments ensure any officer taking part in the upcoming event does so on their own time and in their personal capacity and without using any government resources, including their uniform and title, to advance their personal religious beliefs.
"We have a saying at FFRF: Nothing fails like prayer," Barker and Gaylor add. "The answers will not come from above. It's distressing to see such primitive beliefs promulgated by the police."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 33,000 members across the country and 20 chapters across the country, including more than 1,500 members in Florida (and members in Miami Beach) with a state chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community. 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.