FFRF rues Ky. governor’s prayer proclamation in response to school shooting

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling out the Kentucky governor for his pointless prayerful proclamation over the recent school shooting in his state.

"Like you and the rest of the nation, we are appalled and saddened by the Marshall County High School shooting," Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Gov. Matt Bevin. "We join with others in decrying this senseless violence and in demanding meaningful reform to protect innocent lives — something you could use your office to bring about." 

Bevin's declaration of Jan. 23, 2018, as "a day of prayer for Marshall County" is not only useless but unconstitutional, FFRF asserts in its letter.

Action is needed, not more meaningless "thoughts and prayers," FFRF emphasizes. To that end, FFRF has donated $1,000 to the Marshall Strong Victims Fund to directly assist the families of the dead students, Bailey Nicole Holt and Preston Ryan Cope, and the 18 others who were injured.

Bevin's proclamation appropriately invokes Kentucky's state motto, "United We Stand. Divided We Fall," FFRF notes. However, by unnecessarily inserting religion into a gubernatorial proclamation, it ends up excluding many citizens. Nationally, 21 percent of younger Americans — those born after 1999, i.e., the students who are most impacted by this violence — identify as either atheist or agnostic. Overall, 24 percent of Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated and nearly 6 percent identify as non-Christians practicing a minority religion.

Proclaiming days of prayer is not only exclusionary, FFRF contends, but it is beyond the secular authority of governmental officials. Thomas Jefferson, when asked as president to declare a day of prayer, refused, noting that he had no authority over religious exercises.

"What Jefferson had no authority to do, the governor of Kentucky likewise should not do," Barker and Gaylor write. "Your prayer proclamation violates the spirit of Article 2, Section 5 of the Kentucky state Constitution, which bars any preference for any religion, creed or mode of worship, and bars governmental actions that in any way diminish or enlarge the civil rights, privileges or capacities of citizens on account of 'belief or disbelief.'"

To avoid the constitutional concerns and the divisiveness governmental calls for prayers create, FFRF observes that the solution is simple: Bevin should discontinue using his government office to promote prayer and religion and instead do something practical to help prevent other such crimes.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit educational association that works to uphold the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and to educate the public about nontheism. It represents more than 31,000 members and has 20 chapters across the country, including hundreds of members and a chapter in Kentucky.

Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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