The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting the reprehensible invitation by the Speaker of the House Mike Johnson to a Christian nationalist pastor, known for aggressive hostility to the core American principle of separation between church and state, to open the U.S. House yesterday with prayer.
No openly identified unbeliever has ever been allowed to give the opening invocation. FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, a former minister, was in fact barred from giving a secular invocation (FFRF sued, unsuccessfully, over that).
Compounding that injury with insult is the fact that Rev. Jack Hibbs had no trouble being invited to stand at the House podium. Hibbs, founder of the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and the Real Life ministry, is an open Christian nationalist known for creating religious discord at his local school board and for extremist and intemperate views on social issues.
Hibbs is also all-too-well-known to the Freedom From Religion Foundation as someone whose megachurch figured in a violation that ended in a successful lawsuit we filed against a prayerful California school board. But more about that in a minute.
Hibbs opened his prayer in Congress yesterday with a sectarian and unabashed command: “Let’s pray. Almighty God and Father our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, together we come before you in humility as the people in need of your forgiveness.”
Hibbs continued: “I ask you today, Father, to bring us to a great awakening of righteousness and confidence in you, who alone is mighty to save. Hear my cry in this hour of great need that we might be humbly blessed before you in the repentance of our national sins.”
When Hibbs is talking about “repentance of our national sins,” he’s talking against abortion rights and he’s especially talking against LGBTQIA rights. “Satan himself,” Hibbs preaches, planned the “transgender agenda.” Same-sex marriage “crucified God’s word.” Hibbs has claimed the public school is “sexualizing” children and that they are “being raped by the public school system.” Hibbs has been a defiant election-denier. He’s an extremist.
In the sacredly secular hall of Congress, Hibbs prayed: “You, almighty God, are the source of all wisdom and there is no wisdom but that which comes from you, so please come upon those here who are the stewards over the business of our nation with your wisdom which comes from above.”
Why didn’t the (undoubtedly few) members of Congress present rise up en masse out of self-respect and walk out?
Hibbs concluded his prayer with theological threats: “And with your holy fear knowing that your coming day of judgment draws near, when all who have been and are now in the authority will answer to you, the great judge of heaven and of Earth, for the decisions that they make here in this place, I offer this prayer to you, father, in the name of Jesus Christ our son [bit of a blooper], your son, and your crucified savior and resurrected lord, in Jesus’ name.”
Why was this vengeful zealot invited to open Congress?
FFRF, back in 2014, learned a lot about Hibbs and his congregation after we sued the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education — in part because of interference by church members with school board meetings. FFRF was begged to file suit by local parents, who complained that the meetings “resemble a church service more than a school board meeting.” There was such an outpouring of support that we amended our complaint a month after we filed suit to include 18 additional plaintiffs!
Our plaintiffs consisted of families with students in the school or school employees who had prayers foisted on them. Chino Valley School board meetings opened with a prayer and often included bible reading and proselytizing by board members. Board President James Na injected Christianity into many official statements — and even “urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him.”
It’s no coincidence that Na’s spiritual advisor was “Pastor Jack,” described at that time as “active in the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills Watchman Ministry,” designed “to promote a biblical worldview in all spheres of society, culture and public policy.”
FFRF handily won that suit in 2018, with both the federal district court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in our favor. But Hibbs’ work to undermine secular values continues. FFRF has reported him to the IRS twice since then, once in 2019 for planting campaign signs for the local school board on the lawn of his church, and again in 2022 for openly endorsing a candidate to replace incumbent California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a failed recall election attempt.
The megachurch’s malevolent influence over the Chino Valley school district has remained divisive. Hibbs helped elect to the school board a new member who told a parents rights rally that there was a “spiritual battle” for their children and they must answer the call from God. School board meetings have attracted the Proud Boys and other extremists, according to the Daily Beast, which calls Hibbs “the man behind the curtain.”
Unfortunately, yesterday Hibbs was the man front, left and center in Congress and that was a debasement of the People’s House. We need to drop legislative prayers, as James Madison urged. He asked in the Detached Memoranda of 1820: “Is the appointment of chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness, the answer on both points must be in the negative. … The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of constitutional principles.”
It’s time in a nation predicated on a secular Constitution to end this congressional exercise in piety and pandering. Members of Congress can pray or attend prayer on their own time and dime, and spare the rest of us the fatuous vaporizings from an unpatriotic pastor that we were subjected to yesterday.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.