FFRF objects to Utah governor’s “Day of Prayer” proclamation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to Utah Governor Spencer Cox’s recent proclamation, deeming July 2, 2023, as a “Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving.”

Cox proclaimed Sunday, July 2, as a day of prayer after Utah experienced record-breaking snowfall last winter following a two-year drought. In the proclamation, he states:

Utahns across the state poured their hearts and prayers to receive needed water to combat the intensifying drought… by praying collaboratively and collectively and asking our higher powers for more snow and rain, Utah received record-breaking snowfall this winter season and ideal spring runoff circumstances… we believe there is real power in people of all different faiths and backgrounds uniting together and pleading for help from a higher authority… we want to express our gratitude and appreciation for the water our state has received…

FFRF is objecting to this proclamation and urges Cox to refrain from making similar proclamations going forward.

“It is fine to be thankful that Utah has received significant precipitation this year, but by couching your message in religious terms and promoting religious worship, your message excludes many citizens who do not believe in a deity who answers prayer,” FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker write.

The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages. By issuing a proclamation calling on Utah citizens to pray, Cox is abridging his duty to remain neutral and to respect the freedom of conscience of all Utah citizens. Whether to pray, and whether to believe in a god who answers prayer, is an intensely personal decision protected under the First Amendment as a matter of conscience. When the government urges its citizens to pray, reasonable citizens will interpret this as official government support of religion.

As an elected official, Cox represents a diverse population from many religious backgrounds, including agnostics and atheists who do not believe in prayer. Any prayer proclamation or government-sponsored religious activity alienates and excludes the nearly one-in-three non-Christians and nonbelievers in the state of Utah.

The state/church watchdog points out that the fastest-growing segment of the population is the nonreligious, better known as “nones,” which includes 28 percent of Salt Lake City residents and 22 percent of Utah’s population as a whole. FFRF reminds Cox that the religiously unaffiliated are also his constituents, and care just as much about the drought as religious Utahns. The nonreligious subscribe to FFRF’s motto, “Nothing fails like prayer,” and know that they cannot look to a deity to solve problems. It would be far more effective for the government to prioritize climate change mitigation than to engage in wishful thinking, FFRF adds.

While government officials may worship, pray and participate in religious events in their own personal capacities, they may not provide credibility or prestige to their religion by lending a government office and title to these events. The gubernatorial office belongs to “We the People,” not the office’s temporary occupant.

FFRF reminds Cox of the oath he has taken to uphold the secular U.S. Constitution, and that he must avoid using his office to promote or advance his personal religious beliefs.

“It’s embarrassing that in the 21st century a public official would announce as fact that more rain fell last winter because Utahns united to beg a supernatural force to end the drought,” comments Gaylor. “Gov. Cox appears to worship a fiend who requires a tipping point in prayer in order to send precipitation. Cox can believe as he likes, but he can’t use his office to promote those religious beliefs.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the largest national association of freethinkers, representing more than 40,000 atheists, agnostics, and others (including more than 200 members in Utah) who form their opinions about religion based on reason, rather than faith, tradition or authority.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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