FFRF admonishes Okla. governor for coronavirus-related religious theatrics

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is reproaching the Oklahoma governor for engaging in religious shenanigans instead of real action in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an official proclamation declaring March 26 as a “Statewide Day of Prayer.” He cited Psalm 34:17-18: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” He then urged “Oklahomans of all faiths and religious backgrounds to join together in prayer for all those affected by COVID-19, including our health care professionals on the front lines and those who have suffered harm or lost loved ones.” 

Stitt also sponsored and participated in a worship event on March 26 called “Let Hope Rise: Together in Prayer for Oklahoma.” He spoke during this occasion, where he was introduced as the “architect” of the event: “My message to Oklahomans tonight is it is not going to last forever. We are going to get through this, and we’re going to get through it together. But we need hope, we need hope from our heavenly father.” He explained that his office had worked with television stations to broadcast this religious worship service throughout the state. He ended his remarks by reading directly from the bible: 

And I want to leave everybody with this one scripture, Phillippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your request known to the Lord. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guide your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Oklahoma, we are going to get through this together. God bless you. God bless the great state of Oklahoma.

By appealing to Oklahomans with such a blatantly Christian message, Stitt abridges his duty to remain neutral and to respect the freedom of conscience of all his citizens, FFRF emphasizes. 

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution wisely prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to the governor. “The Supreme Court has said time and again that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”  

More than one-third of Americans are non-Christians, including the more than one in four Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated, FFRF points out. Stitt’s full-throated Christian plea sends this vast group of citizens the message “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.

The separation between state and church is one of the most fundamental principles of our system of government, FFRF reminds Stitt. The Supreme Court has specifically stated: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” 

During times of crisis, citizens look for leadership, and Stitt has been woefully lacking on that front. Oklahomans may decide to turn to a church, but the state may not turn into a church. Stitt has misused his office in asking for the pre-emption of regular programming on several major channels to broadcast a governor-led religious service. He should have instead been busy imparting to Oklahomans proven scientific methods to stem the coronavirus scourge, but he’s been a lamentable laggard in this regard.

As the state’s highest elected official, Stitt is charged with great responsibility and has been given significant trust by citizens, including those who may not share his personal religious viewpoints. Leaving prayer as a private matter for private citizens is the wisest public policy, FFRF advises.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members across the country, including in Oklahoma. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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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