FFRF to Pelosi: Cancel divisive prayer vigil at Jan. 6 event

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to call off a prayer vigil she has planned as part of the House’s one-year observance of the assault on the Capitol and democracy.

In a letter sent to Pelosi on Monday, the national state/church watchdog points out that a prayer vigil would not only be unconstitutional, but counterproductive to an event called for the purpose of unifying the nation.

The event will also be broadcast by CNN as “Live from the Capitol: January 6th, One Year Later.” It is to begin with a prayer and end with a prayer vigil. Pelosi, in inviting colleagues, wrote, “These events are intended as an observance of reflection, remembrance and recommitment, in a spirit of unity, patriotism and prayerfulness.”

While commending Pelosi for holding the events in general, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote her that “Holding a religious service to mark this dark anniversary is doubly wrong.”

First, they note, the prayer vigil inappropriately appears to unite religion and government, contrary to the constitutional principle of separation between church and state. Such entanglement in particular excludes the three-in-10 Americans who today eschew religion. “Ignoring that founding American principle is counterproductive if your purpose is truly to bring Americans together in a spirit of unity,” FFRF notes.

Second, FFRF called the prayer vigil as a response to the events of last Jan. 6 “tone-deaf and highly ironic,” given the major role that Christian nationalism — and prayer itself — played in the insurrection. FFRF points to the omnipresence of Christian prayer and iconography during the attack, with insurrectionists praying in the rotunda and in the Senate chambers, prayer circles dotting the crowd, Proud Boys kneeling in prayer as they marched to the Capitol and other evidence of the Christian nationalist views of the insurrectionists.

“This prayer vigil should be canceled,” FFRF noted. “Instead we ask that you issue a strong statement condemning Christian nationalism and reaffirming your commitment to the U.S. Constitution and its guarantee of a secular government that represents all Americans.”

Adds Barker: “Religion doesn’t unite America, it divides us — just as it did last Jan. 6th. The last thing this country needs is more prayer, especially when Christian nationalism was a root cause of the insurrection.”

FFRF, founded in 1978, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), with more than 35,000 members, and works diligently to defend the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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