Secular Coalition for America to Pres. Obama: Follow Jefferson’s Lead on Prayer Breakfast, Follow Your Own Lead on Faith-Based Initiatives
The Secular Coalition for America, the national organization advocating on behalf of America's nontheist community and for separation of church and state, encouraged President Obama to remain true to his own principles as well as those of Thomas Jefferson in addressing faith-based initiatives and events such as prayer breakfasts.
On February 4, President Obama is scheduled to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, organized by the secretive religious organization the Fellowship Foundation (a.k.a. "The Family"). Recent revelations concerning the well-documented activities of the Fellowship—such as entanglement with the notorious "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda, mandating the death penalty for homosexuality--have cast a grim light on the constitutionally dubious National Prayer Breakfast. Journalist Jeff Sharlet has characterized the event as more than simply a meal among the faithful, but a "week-long lobbying festival which isn't visible."
“These recent revelations place the breakfast in an entirely new and harsh light. As president, Thomas Jefferson refused to sanction official prayer days,” said Secular Coalition Executive Director Sean Faircloth. "In contrast, President Obama’s participation in the Fellowship's National Prayer Breakfast, along with the invitation of (and Bible reading by) Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, gives the breakfast the appearance of an officially sanctioned government ceremony, implying an endorsement of a particular religious agenda." Added Faircloth, "Just as he wisely opted out of ceremonies surrounding the National Day of Prayer in May of last year, the president should not participate in the National Prayer Breakfast, making clear that he believes in a definitive separation between church and state."
The following day marks the first anniversary of the president's executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a program fraught with a lack of transparency, leading to the misdirection of federal tax dollars to sectarian activities unrelated to the secular, humanitarian efforts for which they are intended. President Obama stated on July 1, 2008 that religious organizations receiving federal money should not "use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion,” and that federal dollars could "only be used on secular programs."
Said Faircloth, "In order to live up to the president’s own principles, the Faith-Based Initiatives program must guarantee that no organization that receives federal funding can discriminate against those of differing beliefs, and that those funds are used for strictly secular purposes—never for proselytizing."
The Secular Coalition for America advocates for the separation of church and state, and the greater acceptance and inclusion of non-theistic Americans.
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