The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, is asking the mayor of Kissimmee, Fla., to rescind an unconstitutional proclamation calling for prayer, and to cancel an upcoming city prayer event.
Mayor Jose A. Alvarez Alvarez signed a proclamation on Aug. 7 declaring 40 days of prayer in the city of Kissimmee. The proclamation reads in part:
“WHEREAS, members of the City of Kissimmee are celebrating this hope for the City with 40 days of prayer for peace, justice, love and solidarity between men and women of all faiths, and invite all residents to join them in this celebration by praying, doing acts of kindness, watching over the safety of neighbors and fellow citizens, volunteering and uniting to help those in need to make our City the best place to live.”
While the language of the proclamation itself is largely laudable and secular, such as promoting “acts of kindness,” FFRF notes that injecting religion into an official government pronouncement alienates a substantial portion of the community and is an improper endorsement of religion.
Although the proclamation itself does not include a call to fast, Commissioner Olga Gonzalez has indicated that’s part of the purpose: “This is a prayer and a fasting just because of the things that are going on around the world, the hurricanes, all the displacements of families, and all the things that are going around, not just in Kissimmee but the world.”
Compounding the proclamation violation is the city’s organization of an event on Aug. 21 to implement the call to prayer. In their letter to Alvarez, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor ask him to cancel this event. They remind the mayor that “using your official capacity as mayor to unabashedly promote a religious ritual, like fasting or prayer, sends an official and impermissible message of religious endorsement and of exclusion to many of your constituents.” They also point to an 1808 letter from President Thomas Jefferson, in which he specifically rejected the notion that government officials have the authority to issue prayer or fasting proclamations.
Prayer is not a legal or effective way of uniting a community, FFRF notes, as it excludes the nearly quarter of adult Americans who identify as nonreligious, while also betraying the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.
“Helping hands are far more effective than prayer. Our message to pious politicians is: Get off your knees and get to work,” adds Gaylor.
FFRF represents more than 32,000 nonreligious Americans, including members in Kissimmee with more than 1,500 throughout Florida, plus a central Florida chapter.