FFRF uneasy about Seattle mayor’s official mosque speech


*The Freedom From Religion Foundation appreciates that in response to constitutional concerns, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray changed the nature of his talk at the Idris Mosque. While he still spoke there, his speech wasn’t the official State of the City address. This is what FFRF had advised him.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is concerned that the Seattle mayor’s upcoming State of the City address (on Feb. 21) is scheduled to be delivered in a mosque.

In a letter to the mayor, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor commend Mayor Ed Murray’s intention to stand against “state-sanctioned discrimination by the Trump administration,” and agree with his characterization of the Muslim travel ban. FFRF is preparing an amicus brief against Trump’s ban based on a religious test, and has publicly condemned it and urged its membership to oppose it.

However, FFRF believes that “the city should not oppose one violation of the Establishment Clause by committing another.” An official address at a religious venue sends a message of endorsement of that venue’s beliefs. In this case, this incorporates the Idris Mosque’s criteria for couples wishing to get married at the mosque, which include a refusal to marry Muslim women and non-Muslim men, approval of the marriage by the parties’ fathers or recognized Muslim guardians, (a condition that “especially applies to the bride)” and an agreement on a dowry between the bride’s guardian and the groom.

“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'” Barker and Gaylor write to Murray. “Signaling endorsement of a religious group while acting as a state official is inappropriate and divisive.”

Plus, FFRF underscores, placing the State of the City speech inside a mosque will force citizens — who may be of varying faiths or none at all — to enter a house of worship in order to attend an official city event. Certainly, there are ample appropriate secular locations for such occasions, including City Hall.

FFRF suggests to the mayor there are other appropriate ways of reaching out to Muslims or others of minority religious beliefs (or no beliefs) to convey a message of inclusion, and encourages him and the city to use such avenues. For instance, a public official may, of course, address a congregation on civic (not devotional) matters in his or her official capacity to reach out to constituents and answer questions about their concerns.

FRRF asks that the mayor refrain from giving his State of the City address in any place of worship. It is, at best, ironic, FFRF points out, to respond to a breach of the Establishment Clause by violating it in another manner.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 27,000 nonreligious members across the country, including nearly 200 members in Seattle and almost 1,200 in the state at large. There is a sizable, growing population of religiously unaffiliated Americans, including 39 percent of Washingtonians.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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