FFRF to Minnesota Senate: Drop prayer

The Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog, Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of its 16,200 members, including 400 in Minnesota, added its objection to the controversial prayers now opening the Minnesota State Senate.

State Sen. Terri Bonoff last week asked the Senate to adopt and enforce rules that prayers be nonsectarian in nature, following the over-the-top prayer to Jesus on March 14, 2011 by Pastor Dennis Campbell, of Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud. FFRF transcribed Rev. Campbell’s prayer as well as other recent formal prayers. Listen to Campbell’s prayer. Read the prayer transcription.

FFRF has gone further, in a March 22 letter to Senate President Michelle Fischbach, by asking the Senate to discontinue prayer altogether.

“The content of Campbell’s prayer shows why it is so inappropriate and politically divisive for legislators — who have taken an oath of office to uphold our secular constitution — to open public meetings with prayer,” noted FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“It is an affront for the Minnesota Senate to regularly schedule mostly Christian clergy to open sessions, and for those clergy to dictate to Minnesota citizens and Senators that ‘Jesus is the way.’ ” The Foundation found that of 32 prayers FFRF was able to find online, since May 2010, 27 Senate prayers were by invited Christian clergy. Four prayers were offered by senators and the only nonChristian clergy invited was one rabbi.

“It is also an affront to reason as well as the required separation between government and religion for the Senate to invite purveyors of dogma to invoke ‘divine guidance’ and talk about ‘sin.' In the 21st century, it is time for reason to prevail.”

FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert, in her letter to the Senate, called “prayer at government meetings unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” “coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular state government.” Her letter goes into the thorny legal history over legislative prayer, and documents that the Supreme Court frowns on sectarian prayer “which serves to affiliate the government with a particular sect or creed and/or advance a particular faith or belief.” Markert added a primer on the secular foundations of the United States, whose godless constitution was adopted without prayer at the constitutional convention.

In case civil law isn’t persuasive enough, Markert noted that such prayers “not only conflict with the Constitution, but also with biblical teachings. Christians who know their bible are familiar with the biblical injunction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, condemning as hypocrisy public prayer. ‘Enter into thy closet and when though hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret’ (Matthew 6:5-13)."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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