FFRF admonishes S.C. guv for official prayers

Henry McMasters

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling out the South Carolina governor for repeatedly organizing prayers before important coronavirus-related press conferences.

Residents of the state informed FFRF that Gov. Henry McMaster invited Chaplain Greg Brown to begin a March 15 news conference about the COVID-19 pandemic with a Christian prayer. And again on March 19, the governor asked Chaplain John Denny to offer a Christian prayer to start a coronavirus-focused press conference.

As governor, McMaster represents a diverse population that consists not only of religious individuals but also of atheists and agnostics who do not believe in a deity, much less the power of prayer, FFRF reminds the South Carolina chief executive.

“The decision to deliver a prayer at an official state news conference sends an unfortunate official message of endorsement of religion over nonreligion by the highest executive office in the state — a message that inevitably excludes many of your constituents and has a proselytizing intent,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to McMaster. “Asking these Christian chaplains to preside over the prayer also signals an official message of endorsement of Christianity over other religions, thereby excluding followers of minority religions. A message to encourage safety and show governmental concern in a time of hardship could have been effectively conveyed without prayer and the unnecessary entanglement of government and religion.”

Nonreligious Americans make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification, FFRF points out. Over one-third of Americans are non-Christians, including the more than one-fourth of the population that identifies as religiously unaffiliated. Beginning a televised gubernatorial news conference with a prayer signals to this sizeable minority “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

Government chaplains may only exist as an accommodation of a public employee’s religious beliefs when the government makes it difficult or impossible to seek out private ministries, FFRF emphasizes. Prayers at gubernatorial press conferences do not lighten a government imposed burden on religion, rather they impose a governmental religion on every citizen.

FFRF asks McMaster to remain cognizant that as the governor of South Carolina, he has taken an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution — an entirely godless and secular document. Adhering to a strict separation of church and state offends no one and honors the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the state/church watchdog observes.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 30,000 members across the country, including hundreds in South Carolina. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Photo via Shutterstock by John Wollwerth

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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