Rescind your prayer proclamation for the upcoming Sunday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting to the Mississippi governor.
Gov. Tate Reeves has declared Sunday, Dec. 20, as a “Statewide Day of Prayer, Humility, and Fasting.” During his Facebook Live event announcing the proclamation, he directed all Mississippians to pray and read from the bible: “We know that there is power in prayer. In fact, it is what God commands us to do. In Romans 12:12, ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.’”
Then Reeves asked Rev. David Tipton to read the proclamation and to offer a prayer. Tipton first recited the decree, which includes highly problematic sectarian lines such as: “Whereas, scripture instructs that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. We seek wisdom and will strive to walk humbly in reliance on God’s providence so that we may act with justice, courage, kindness, and love through all circumstances.” He subsequently led a prayer in the name of Jesus. After signing the proclamation, Reeves asked Rev. Danny Powell to lead yet another prayer “to the one true God.”
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution wisely prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages, FFRF emphasizes.
“By issuing a proclamation calling on Mississippi citizens to pray, you abridge your duty to remain neutral and to respect the freedom of conscience of all your citizens,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to the governor. “Whether to pray, and whether to believe in a god who answers prayer, is an intensely personal decision protected under our First Amendment as a matter of conscience.”
And even if this proclamation is intended to include those of non-Christian faiths, which seems unlikely given the deluge of Christian prayers and references during the announcement event, it excludes those of no religious faith, FFRF adds. Nonreligious Americans make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification — 35 percent of Americans are non-Christians, and this includes the more than one in four Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.
The separation between state and church is one of the most fundamental principles of our system of government, FFRF stresses. 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.”
Reeves was elected governor, not preacher. People look to him for civic leadership, not religious support. And Reeves has been woefully lacking in leadership, instead misapplying his energy toward two previous prayer proclamations (both of which FFRF formally objected to). More than 4,200 Mississipians have died from complications of the virus and over 185,000 have contracted the virus since Reeves’ first prayer request back in March. Yet, he has failed to issue a recent statewide mandate on social distancing and mask-wearing despite a resurgence of cases.
FFRF is asking the governor, once again, to refrain from making ineffective and exclusionary requests and proclamations and instead take real, meaningful actions to ensure that the state’s response to the pandemic is based on methods grounded in science that will protect health care workers and other Mississippians. It’s time for Reeves to get off his knees and get to work.
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including members in Mississippi. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.