FFRF protests New Haven clerk’s call for school prayer

In a Jan. 10 letter of complaint to Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven, Conn., the Freedom From Religion Foundation cautioned the city against "taking an unconstitutional proposal to 'put prayer back in schools' seriously." Newly elected City Clerk Ronald Smith proposed prayer as a technique to lower crime rates at his inauguration ceremony.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog group with over 17,000 members nationwide, including 200 in Connecticut.

"Mr. Smith is offending large numbers of young people and their parents with such inappropriate pronouncements. In claiming that prayer would lower crime, Mr. Smith is implying that non-believers are criminals – an idea that is at once insulting and ignorant," wrote Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

Studies have shown that there is no scientific data to support Smith's claim tying heightened crime rates to non-theism. One study found atheists are only .2 percent of prisoners, highly underrepresented.

FFRF's letter cites research by prominent sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who says: "Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread. And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon."

Any government-sanctioned prayer in public school is in direct violation of the Constitution.

"The purpose of schools is to educate, not to promote religion. Schoolchildren are young, impressionable and vulnerable to adult and peer pressure. It is the duty of the secular public school system to protect vulnerable children, not to expose them to pressure and predatory prayers. The exercise of religion must be left to the individual and religious education left to the family," noted Gaylor.

FFRF's letter cited other studies debunking Smith's "insulting" smear of non-believers. "In fact religious belief is linked to immorality. The unwholesome doctrine of 'original sin' can become a self-fulfilling prophecy," Gaylor added. "Rejection of religious claims is intellectual and respectable." 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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