FFRF contests Ga. mayor’s Thanksgiving church service

Mayor James Thomas of Hinesville, Ga., organizes an annual “Mayor’s Thanksgiving Service,” a church service at a local chapel. After receiving a complaint, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, sent the mayor a letter last week calling the service “inarguably a city-sponsored religious event.”

A flyer called this year’s event the “2014 Mayor’s Thanksgiving Service: Songs, Prayer & Thanksgiving, presented by the City of Hinesville.” The Liberty County, Ga., website listed the event “organizer” as “City of Hinesville,” and promotional materials listed city contact information.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Mayor Thomas a letter of complaint on Dec. 5: “As mayor you represent a diverse population that consists of not only Christians but atheists and agnostics, who do not believe in prayer. Lending your title and city resources to a Thanksgiving Service unabashedly promotes a religious event, sending an official message of endorsement of religion over non-religion to the exclusion of many of your constituents.”

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion. It can neither promote one religion over another, nor religion over nonreligion,” wrote Seidel.

The letter concluded by asking for a written response assuring FFRF that the mayor’s office and the City of Hinesville would not organize or promote church services in the future.

“As a private citizen, James Thomas of course can attend any religious worship services he pleases. As Mayor Thomas, who took an oath of office to defend the secular U.S. Constitution, he must take care not to misuse his civil authority to promote his personal religious views,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF has more than 21,500 members nationwide, including more than 400 in Georgia, as well as a chapter based in Atlanta.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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