FFRF’s Seidel on how religion undermined Inaugural’s call for unity

1AndrewSeidelPresskitFFRF heard from many of its members on Inauguration Day. Like you, we watched the Inaugural with hope in our hearts. The intent was a ceremonial moment of national healing and unity. But we were often left out — and left wondering about what happened to the American principle that religion and our government should be separate. FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel put his feelings down in an op-ed for Religion Dispatches, “The Inauguration’s beautiful call for unity was undermined by the invocation of religion”:

There’s a reason religion and politics are forbidden topics in polite conversation: they’re divisive. Mixing the two is doubly so. President Joe Biden is a deeply religious man who turns to his faith in dark times. But 85 million Americans do not. Those nonreligious Americans were left out of yesterday’s moment of national healing.

The Inauguration was beautiful. I cried when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the high court, swore in Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female, first Black and first Asian-American to hold such a high office. But religion is divisive, and every time the people on that stage turned to the Christian god, or to prayer, or to religion, millions of Americans were left alone, a catch in their throat, a flush in their face, a feeling of exclusion growing with each appeal to the divine. And yes, some of the religious language was intended to be ecumenical or more inclusive than that which might be heard in a church on a Sunday morning, but the religion was impossible to ignore and it wasn’t just nonbelievers left feeling like outsiders in their own country.

Seidel also addressed the tendency to shake this religion off as merely ceremonial, noting that it is precisely for that reason that it is harmful:

An inauguration isn’t work or policy, but ceremony and symbolism. So that language matters more, not less. President Biden’s speech was powerful overall, and magnanimous. But also divisive. When it came time to address the pandemic scything across the country leaving 400,000 dead Americans in its wake, what could have been a moment of silence including everyone, Biden instead called for a moment of silent prayer for the believers. It was disappointing. And alienating.

The article captured what many of us were thinking and feeling, and Seidel concluded the piece on just the right note. To see how, please read the whole column on Religion Dispatches and then share it on your social media.

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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