FFRF urges the Iowa State Legislature to end unconstitutional opening prayers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of its Iowa membership, urged the Iowa State Legislature to drop prayer and reject resolutions continuing prayer in the 84th General Assembly and providing compensation to "chaplains" officiating over prayer. FFRF sent letters on Jan. 7 to both the President of the Iowa State Senate, Jack Kibbie, and the Speaker of the Iowa State House of Representatives, Kraig Paulsen, as well as the Secretary of the Senate, the Chief Clerk of the House, the Speaker and President Pro Tempore, and all members of both the Iowa State Senate and the Iowa State House of Representatives. 

"Government should not be in the business of performing religious rituals, or exhorting all citizens regardless of beliefs to participate in a Christian prayer, or minimally to demonstrate obeisance to such prayer," wrote Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president. "Legislators are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time."

The Foundation noted that the prayers offered before the Iowa State Senate's legislative sessions do not fall into the narrow exception of constitutionally permissible government-sponsored prayer laid out by the Supreme Court.

"The Iowa State Senate compounds the violation when the vast majority of opening prayers invoke the Christian deity, as well as Christian saints and prophets, and quote Biblical scripture and when the vast majority of the officiants are Christian or Christian clergy," added Gaylor. "Such prayer creates acrimony, makes religious minorities feel like political outsiders in their own community, and shows unconstitutional governmental preference not just for religion over non-religion, Christianity over other faiths."

Gaylor’s letter concluded: “To avoid the constitutional concerns these prayers cause for the Iowa legislature and the divisiveness these prayers cause within the community, the solution is simple: discontinue official, government prayers before legislative sessions. We request a prompt response in writing about what steps you are taking to respect the Establishment Clause and remedy these constitutional violations.”

Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers also sent letters to the leaders of the Iowa House and Senate, objecting to government prayer.

The Iowa House and Senate passed the resolutions today, Monday, Jan. 10.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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