The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been (almost) rendered speechless by a Georgian mayor’s offering of communion at his recent swearing-in ceremony.
Immediately following his swearing-in on Jan. 10, broadcast on Fairburn’s official Facebook page and over Zoom, Mayor Mario Avery “led the crowd — and invited residents watching at home — in taking communion,” a media outlet reports. Avery explained that he came up with the idea while he was praying and asked those watching to grab something to drink so they could participate in this religious ritual. He linked this taking of communion to an event that he had in 2009 with 15 pastors and noted that he was doing this to ask for “spiritual guidance.” Immediately following this religious ritual, many people in the room exclaimed, “amen.”
It is restating a well-known fact, FFRF comments, that communion is a Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed as memorials of Christ’s death or as symbols for the realization of a spiritual union between Christ and communicant or as the body and blood of Christ. Turning a civil ceremony into a church service and suggesting that members of the audience, which certainly included non-Christians, participate in a sacred Christian ritual is divisive.
“This religious ritual during an official government meeting and event amounted to an endorsement of religion, specifically Christianity, in contravention of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the mayor. “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 a quarter of all Americans are nonreligious, making them the fastest-growing demographic by religious identification. Avery’s decision to intertwine religious authority with his purely civil and secular authority as mayor is a wildly inappropriate use of the mayoral office and sends a message to nonreligious and non-Christian residents that they are not first-class citizens — and to Christians that they are favored citizens.
Avery must not include religious rituals in official ceremonies or otherwise promote his religious views using his office in the future, FFRF concludes.
“Mayor Avery’s actions have blown a hole in the constitutional wall of separation,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The offering of communion is so unseemly at an official ceremony that it defies belief.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 500 members and a chapter in Georgia. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.