FFRF to Okla. Gov: Cancel COVID-19 prayer proclamation

Gov Stitt

Withdraw your proclamation designating Thursday, Dec. 3, as “Oklahoma Day of Prayer and Fasting” to counteract the effects of COVID-19, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging Gov. Kevin Stitt

Stitt cites in his proclamation the New Testament verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He appears to be blaming the victims of COVID-19, including more than 1,700 citizens in his state who have died from the virus, and labeling them “wicked.” Stitt also urges “Oklahomans of all faiths and religious backgrounds to join together with me in prayer and fasting to continue to ask God to heal those who are sick, comfort those who are hurting, and provide renewed strength and wisdom to all who are managing the effects of COVID-19.”

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution wisely prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages, FFRF reminds 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,’” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Stitt. “By issuing a proclamation calling on Oklahoma citizens to pray, you abridge your duty to remain neutral and to respect the freedom of conscience of all your citizens.”

And Stitt’s repeated prayer proclamations do nothing to help Oklahomans actually deal with the pandemic, FFRF points out. The national state/church watchdog wrote to the governor in March regarding a previous unconstitutional prayer proclamation of his and his office’s inappropriate official sponsorship of a religious worship event. More than 1,700 Oklahomans have died from the pandemic and close to 200,000 in the state have contracted the virus since that first day of prayer. Yet, Stitt has failed to issue mandates on social distancing or mask-wearing.

It is more than ironic that as head executive of his state, Stitt misguidedly feels he has the right in our secular nation to direct citizens to “unite in prayer” over the pandemic, yet eschews directing them to follow science by taking basic secular precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even more ironic is that his proclamation, by singling out “churches and faith communities … to find safe ways to gather … [and] unite in prayer,” is directing citizens to engage in religious gatherings that will further the spread of the virus.

During times of crisis, citizens look for leadership, FFRF exhorts. Stitt was elected governor, not preacher. He should be instructing Oklahomans to stay at home, engage in social distancing, wear masks and take other recommended precautions. His actions are not only inappropriate and unconstitutional, but counterproductive to public health.

In conclusion, FFRF asks that Stitt, as governor of Oklahoma, remain cognizant that he has taken an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution — an entirely godless and secular document. Leaving religion as a private matter for private citizens is the wisest public policy. Observing a strict separation of church and state offends no one and honors the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“This proclamation is useless, an insult to the people of Oklahoma, to science and to public policy,” adds Gaylor. “We remind Gov. Stitt as we remind pious politicians everywhere: Get off your knees and get to work. That injunction has never been more urgent than in a pandemic.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 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.

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