Don’t officially back the National Day of Prayer, FFRF asks several cities

God & Government

Do not violate the Constitution tomorrow by promoting prayer, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging cities all over the United States.

FFRF has sent letters to Provo, Utah, Bunnell, Fla., Lebanon, Conn., Acworth, Ga., and Henderson, Texas, chastising their officials for participating in, sponsoring or endorsing National Day of Prayer events on Thursday, May 6.

The National Day of Prayer is a sectarian event that originated with the Rev. Billy Graham during his evangelical crusade in Washington, D.C., in 1952. He expressed an overtly Christian purpose, seeking an annual prayer proclamation by the president because he wanted “the Lord Jesus Christ” to be recognized across the land. Congress passed a public law designating an annual National Day of Prayer, instructing the president to issue a prayer proclamation on the first Thursday every May enjoining citizens to “turn to God in prayer and meditation in churches, in groups, and as individuals.”

Subsequently, the evangelical-run National Day of Prayer Task Force mobilized to “communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership.” This year’s theme is “Lord Pour Out Your Love, Life, and Liberty,” based upon the New Testament verse 2 Corinthians 3:17. In its announcement of the theme for 2021, the task force reveals that its idea of “love, life, and liberty” amounts to religious assimilation through proselytization. It writes:

Everyone needs to know that they were created by God and that He loved them so much He put His image in them and authored their value and purpose that no person can take away from them. As followers of Jesus we must come together in obedient unity and love that spreads God’s glory across the earth. We must share this message of love and life, so that our neighbors, co-workers, classmates – so that all the world would come to repentance, that NONE may perish and know the LIBERTY, the freedom from the stain and shame of sin.

The task force has a Statement of Faith that is exclusive to Christians, including that “The Holy Bible is the inspired, only, infallible, authoritative Word of The Living God” and a belief in “the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

FFRF is asking the five cities mentioned above to drop their support for this divisive, evangelistic vision for America and cease participating in or sponsoring National Day of Prayer events.

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from organizing or endorsing a religious event,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the mayor of all these cities. “As the Supreme Court has put it, the Establishment Clause ‘mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

The cities’ official sponsorship and participation in the National Day of Prayer events, advertised by the cities and using city resources, creates the appearance of favoritism toward Christians. In 2002, a federal court enjoined a city and mayor from organizing, advertising, promoting or endorsing a prayer breakfast (Newman v. city of East Point). And legal arguments aside, participating in and promoting these events is unnecessarily divisive. Such events send the message that these cities not only prefer religion over nonreligion, but also Christianity over all other faiths. The National Day of Prayer is explicitly designed to exclude the 24 percent of Americans who are nonreligious and, more broadly, the 30 percent of Americans who are non-Christian.

Cities should strive to appear equally welcoming of all residents — regardless of whether they are Christian, practice a minority religion or are nonreligious. That’s why the cities FFRF is writing to must refrain from further organization, participation in and promotion of religious events.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 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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