Freethought Society Leads Protest Against Prayer For Rain

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s call to pray on the steps of the state Capitol for rain to alleviate a drought upsets secular groups

Church and State

This from Associated Press:

ATLANTA – As Georgia descends deeper into drought, Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered water restrictions, launched a legal battle and asked President Bush for help. Today, the governor will call on a higher power.

He will join lawmakers and ministers on the steps of the state Capitol to pray for rain.

While public prayer vigils might raise eyebrows in other parts of the nation, they are mostly shrugged off in the Bible Belt, where turning to the heavens for help is common and sometimes even politically expedient.

“Christianity has more of a place in the culture here than in some other region,” said Ray Van Neste, a professor of Christian studies at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. “And it’s only natural, in a way, for the public to pray for rain.”

Perdue won’t be the first governor to hold a call for public prayer during the epic drought gripping the Southeast. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley issued a proclamation declaring a week in July as “Days of Prayer for Rain” to “humbly ask for His blessings and to hold us steady in times of difficulty.”

The loudest opposition to Perdue’s move has come from the Atlanta Freethought Society, a secular group that is expecting about a dozen of its 125 members to protest at the vigil.

“The governor can pray when he wants to,” said Ed Buckner, who is organizing the protest. “What he can’t do is lead prayers in the name of the people of Georgia.”

Political heavyweights outside the U.S. are known to occasionally plead to the heavens for rain. In May, Australian Prime Minister John Howard asked churchgoers to pray for rain in hopes of snapping a drought that has devastated crops and bankrupted farmers Down Under.

In the U.S., public expressions of faith are often discouraged as a breach of the separation of church and state.

Thomas Jefferson, for one, resisted calls for a federal day of prayer. But he was an exception. From George Washington, who declared “a day of prayer and thanksgiving,” to Harry Truman, who established a National Day of Prayer, American politicians have not been shy about associating themselves with petitions to the Almighty.

With rivers and reservoirs dropping to dangerously low levels across the region, a prayer rally at a high school football stadium in the Georgia town of Watkinsville drew more than 100 worshippers last week, and a gospel concert dedicated to rain attracted hundreds more two weeks ago at an Atlanta church.

“We need to try a different approach,” said Rocky Twyman, who organized the concert. “We need to call on God, because what we’re doing isn’t working. We think that instead of all this fussing and fighting, Gov. Perdue and all these others would come together and pray.”

A Baptist, Perdue has several times mentioned the need for prayer—along with water conservation—as the crisis has worsened. Over the summer, he participated in a day of prayer for agriculture at a gathering of the Georgia Farm Bureau.

Again, the paranoia over separation of church and state, has led some to misconstrue the Constitution to mean the government should not support any expressions of faith. However, it is religion that should not be endorsed. That does not mean a squelching of the right to express faith…something completely different than religion.

Atlanta Freethought Society’s Press Release:

The Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue, has called for a prayer service on the Capitol grounds, Washington Street side, at 11:45 am. on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 to pray for rain. This is embarrassingly foolish, a great mistake, a waste of taxpayer money, and unconstitutional on its face.

The Atlanta Freethought Society, along with the two biggest and best national organizations for freethinkers, the Council for Secular Humanism (headquarters in Amherst NY), and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (headquarters in Madison WI)–will engage in a polite and peaceful protest on next Tuesday, 13 November at the Georgia Capitol Building in downtown Atlanta (Washington Street near the intersection with Martin Luther King Drive SW–the north corner of the Capitol grounds), from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A major reason for protesting is the egregious violation of church-state separation that the Governor of Georgia is leading at the Capitol at that hour flouting the First Amendment and the Georgia Constitution.

This protest will be directed at the Governor’s actions on the basis both of violations of religious liberty and on the basis of absurd religious ideas.

Deeply religious Christians and other believers should take offense at this as bad religion and as a threat to religious liberty.

Deeply irreligious Georgians should take offense that someone representing us should engage in such illogical nonsense, with the potential to embarrass us all internationally.

Georgians of all religious or irreligious beliefs and of every political philosophy should take offense at this waste of our tax dollars and plain violation of separation of church and state and of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and straightforward violation of the Georgia Constitution, Article I, Section II, Paragraph VI:
“Paragraph VI. Separation of church and state. No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.”

A rally permit has been approved by the Georgia Building Authority on Friday, 9 November. Endorsements by other organizations may be forthcoming.

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