FFRF objects to official prayer meeting in Jackson, Miss.

1JacksonPrayerThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has strongly objected to a recent police chief-led prayer meeting in Mississippi’s capital and largest city.

“State and local leaders gathered Friday for a prayer meeting,” reports a TV station. “It was held at the Jackson Police Department’s headquarters. Jackson police and firefighters gathered together, along with Mayor Tony Yarber and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. ‘You must submit to the one that has the power over life and death, and that’s what we are doing today,’ said Chief Lee Vance.”

FFRF contacted Vance after learning from a local resident about the Jan. 13 prayer meeting. Organizing and leading prayer in an official capacity on government property and advocating prayer as a department-wide crime-fighting strategy constitutes illegal religious endorsement that violates the U.S. Constitution, FFRF reminded the police chief.

“Calling upon citizens to pray is coercive and beyond the authority of any government official, let alone a community’s chief law enforcement officer,” FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to him. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.'” 

Besides, such an act is deeply alienating for the non-Christian and nonreligious population of Jackson. Roughly one-fourth of Americans and one-third of Millennials identify as nonreligious.

“Rather than inviting minority religious and nonreligious citizens to join you in prayer to your personal god, it would be more prudent to separate the department’s efforts at crime reduction from religious rituals,” FFRF stated. “That way everyone in the community, regardless of religious or nonreligious preference, could participate freely.”

Citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most vulnerable times of their lives. These citizens should not be made to feel offended and excluded, because their police chief oversteps his authority by endorsing a religious message. FFRF also underlined the hypocrisy of calling for a reduction in crime through an act that itself breaks the law.

“Our message to pious public officials is: Get off your knees and get to work,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Jackson police chief needs to follow the Constitution, instead of making his own rules.”

Vance must stop leading prayer services on city property in his capacity as police chief, and FFRF asks him to inform it in writing of the actions the department takes to set an example for its community by following the law.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. It represents 26,000 nonreligious members across the country, including in Mississippi.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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