Freedom From Religion targets theocratic Day of Prayer

About 20 mayors and county commissioners who are misusing their offices to endorse the National Day of Prayer got a warning letter this week from the Freedom From Religion Foundation: Stop your illegal practice.

Letters went to Aiken, S.C.; Auburndale, Fla.; Clovis, N.M.; Gulf Shores, Ala.; Englewood, Colo.; Fate, Texas; Green Bay, Wis.; Haines City, Fla.; Heath, Texas; Keizer, Ore.; Marion County (Ohio) Commission; Rockwall County (Texas) Mayors' Prayer Breakfast participants (several letters); Plymouth, Ind.; Polk County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office; Rowlett, Texas; Royse City, Texas; Westcliffe, Colo.; Williamsport, Pa.; and Warren, Mich.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist got his own letter, a follow-up letter, actually. (FFRF sent an earlier letter to all 50 governors, but Crist's actions deserved another letter.) Crist proclaimed May 6 as a Day of Prayer and is sending a representative to the "Restoration Dinner" at First Baptist Church in Bartow. He also videotaped a “welcome message” to be displayed on giant screens at the Heal Me Crusade, a three-day Christian “salvation and healing” event May 6-8 in Plant City. The Heal Me Crusade seeks to “bring glory to God and the Gospel message to the lost.” Crist apologizes in his taped message for not attending.

"It is inappropriate for you to issue an annual prayer proclamation, send official representatives to National Day of Prayer activities and to record 'welcome messages' for these Christian events," said Rebecca Markert, FFRF staff attorney. "Your participation in and promotion of these events and your recording 'communicate the message that the [state government of Florida] endorses prayer and encourages its citizens to engage in it.'

"Furthermore, your endorsement of a faith-healing event — complete with promo photos of wheelchair-bound participants — is nothing short of irresponsible."

The Foundation's letters represent a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of municipally endorsed events set for the May 6 National Day of Prayer, which a federal judge has ruled unconstitutional, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. The NDP Task Force, housed at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, claims it organizes 30,000 to 40,000 events.

"Under our secular Constitution, elected officials have neither the moral nor the constitutional authority to exhort constituents to pray, much less to set aside an entire day for prayer every year, and tell them to gather with others to pray," Gaylor said.

A particularly egregious violation took place in Warren, Mich., where the city inserted a notice in utility bills of a prayer event taking place at City Hall.

"It is grossly inappropriate for the city to use its invoicing system as a mechanism for promoting the National Day of Prayer," said Markert. "The city cannot expend, even temporarily, government funds and resources to print and mail promotional materials for the National Day of Prayer event at City Hall."

Officials know it's dicey for government to endorse religion. In Williamsport, Pa., for example, Mayor Gabriel Campana, meeting with religious leaders to announce an NDP program, said he was present as a "taxpayer" and private citizen because the city cannot officially be a co-sponsor of the event for legal reasons. "If we could," he added, "we would (co-sponsor)."

The Foundation is holding its own pro-reason event at the Wisconsin State Capitol with signs like "God & Government a Dangerous Mix," "Nothing Fails Like Prayer," "National Day of Prayer — Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." The Triangle Freethought Society, an FFRF chapter in Raleigh, N.C., is holding a vigil at the Capitol to promote a National Day of Reason. Other secular groups nationwide are participating in similar events.

"Promotion of prayer by elected officials is a classic example of political pandering," Gaylor said. "Mayors and other government officials have given in to the pressure of Christian groups that seek government approval and sponsorship of their beliefs."

Another example, from a complaint FFRF received from a Texas member about the Rockwall County Mayors' Prayer Breakfast, where the guest speaker is Tim Barton of WallBuilders, a Christian group whose goal is to “influence in government, education and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values."

Gaylor said the wall that public officials should be concerned about is the constitutionally mandated wall of separation between state and church. "Instead, they're supporting divisive groups like WallBuilders that pit one religion against another and believers against nonbelievers."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend