FFRF raises alarm over N.C. county’s Ramadan decree

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is raising a red flag about a North Carolina county’s recent Ramadan proclamation.

On June 6, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners issued a resolution declaring May 26–June 24 as “The Month of Ramadan” in the county. The board inserted a number of statements in the proclamation, including that the purpose of the holiday is for Muslims to “become closer to God” and that “each day of fasting teaches the soul to struggle with the self.”

FFRF recognizes the board’s interest and responsibility to welcome minority groups into the Mecklenburg community. But there are other, better ways to do this that do not cross the line between religion and government. The county has exceeded its authority as a secular government entity by impermissibly appearing to endorse religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor writes to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. “The Supreme Court has said time and again, that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’ By issuing an official proclamation recognizing an inherently religious holiday, the Board of Commissioners risks sending the message that the county endorses religion over nonreligion or Islam in particular above other faiths.”

Some have observed that governmental entities such as Mecklenburg County commemorate other holidays with religious significance, such as Dec. 25. But there is a fundamental difference between recognizing a holiday and celebrating the religious aspects of that holiday. The former is permissible while the latter violates the government’s constitutional obligations.

Several statements from the Mecklenburg County proclamation go beyond mere recognition of Ramadan as a cultural phenomenon. The resolution includes statements about drawing closer to “God,” the revelations of the “Prophet Muhammad,” and even the existence of a “soul,” all without the qualification that these are mere beliefs of those who celebrate the holiday. The government must scrupulously avoid making declarations as to the veracity of religious beliefs.

FFRF has objected in the past to county proclamations around the country that laud Christianity or its holidays in ways that appear devotional, promotional or cheerleading, or that appear to confer the government’s blessing upon a particular religion or denomination. In order to avoid the appearance of religious endorsement, the Board of County Commissioners must take steps to disassociate the county from promotion of religious beliefs, whether espoused by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Satanists or others. (By the way, FFRF has never heard of a county declaring “A Month of Atheism” or a “Day of Dissent from Religion.” Imagine the uproar!)

It was a mistake to pass the Ramadan proclamation with this particular wording, FFRF asserts. It urges the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners not to engage in an annual violation of the First Amendment through repeated issuance of such a decree.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 nonreligious members and chapters all across the country, including 600-plus and a chapter in North Carolina. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Photo by Julian Dragomir

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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