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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

September 15-17, 2017

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

%250 %America/Chicago, %2017

Neosho cross should remain

shutterstock 314610830JosephSohmThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is troubled over an Illinois city council's trend of scheduling exclusively Christian leaders to give invocations at its meetings.

During a Peoria City Council meeting to install newly elected officials last month, Monsignor Stanley Deptula of the city's Catholic Diocese and Pastor Martin Johnson each led overtly sectarian prayers. Deptula opened his address with a benediction, which he explained was written by a Catholic bishop, and made reference to a "holy spirit." Johnson's invocation concluded in the name of Jesus.

FFRF raises concern over the City Council's conspicuously Christian bias evident in its prayers. There is no record of an invocation by any non-Christian speakers in the recent past. This is just the latest in the council's history of favoring parochial religious leaders to open its meetings.

"Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive," writes FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne to Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. "The best solution is to discontinue invocations altogether."

A full 30 percent of Americans are not Christian, and nearly 25 percent of the public is not religious at all. It is ostracizing and intimidating for citizens who are of a minority religion or are nonreligious to attend a public meeting and be required to either make a display of their nonbelief or show deference to a religious sentiment they do not believe in.

"A local civil body ought not to lend its taxpayer-funded time to religion by inviting factional religious leaders to give prayers," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The City Council must either end this practice or establish a clear policy that does not discriminate against any nonreligious or minority religious citizens wishing to deliver an invocation."

This means that if the council chooses to continue its prayer practice, it must open its prayers to all attendees, including atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Wiccans or Satanists.

FFRF urges the council to demonstrate respect for the diverse scope of religious and nonreligious citizens living in Peoria by concentrating on civil matters and ending the practice of hosting prayers at meetings all together. It is in the best interest of all involved to leave religion to the private conscience of each individual.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization, with more than 29,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including 900-plus members and chapters in Illinois and a chapter, the FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter.

1AbigailWhelanThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning a Minnesota state representative's outrageous misuse of her official position in preaching from the House floor.

During a May 23 debate over whether or not to pass an amendment to an omnibus tax bill, state Rep. Abigail Whelan chose to deliver an impromptu sermon:

"I have an eternal perspective and I want to share that with you and with the people listening at home ... There is actual joy to be found in Jesus Christ. Jesus loves you all. If you would like to get to know him, [if] you're listening at home, [or] here in this room, please email me, call me. Would love to talk to you about Jesus. He is the hope of this state and of this country."

FFRF asserts that in these comments, Whelan shamelessly abused the power of her office.

"These proselytizing remarks were completely inappropriate and an egregious violation of the spirit of the constitutional principle of separation between state and church," FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Whelan. "The Supreme Court has held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion." 

While Whelan is free to practice and promote her personal religious beliefs on her own time, it is inappropriate to do so through the special platform she has been afforded, FFRF emphasizes. For Whelan to use state resources to promote her personal religious beliefs on the House floor and suggest that people should convert is completely inappropriate.

Besides, Whelan is not truly representing her constituents when she makes such a blatantly sectarian appeal. More than 23 percent of Americans identify as nonreligious. That 8-point increase since 2007 and 15-point jump since 1990 makes the "Nones" the fastest growing identification in America. Nearly 30 percent of Americans are non-Christians, either practicing a minority religion or no religion at all.

Whelan took an oath to uphold our country's godless and entirely secular Constitution, FFRF reminds her. Her statement to turn everything over to a deity seems to be an admission of professional failure. FFRF's advice to pious politicians everywhere is to "get off your knees and get to work."

FFRF requests that Whelan commit in writing to uphold her constitutional duty not to promote her personal religion while acting in her official capacity.

"While Rep. Whelan is free to say as many foolish things as she likes from the Assembly floor, she should be prepared to hear criticism," says Barker.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. It represents more than 29,000 nonreligious members nationally and has chapters all over the country, including almost 600 members and two chapters in Minnesota.

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