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FFRF Letter to PA House regarding prayer

FFRF Letter to PA House regarding prayer

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Published by Justin Vacula

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Published by: Justin Vacula on Apr 04, 2012
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04/05/2012

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FREEDOMFROM
RE~IGION
foundation
r.o.
Box750·
IvlAD1SON.
WI53701·(608)256-8900'
WWW.FFRF.ORG
April4,2012SENTBYMAILANDFAXHon.SamuelSmith139MainCapitolBuildingPOBox202066Harrisburg,PA17120Re:UnconstitutionalSectarianPrayersDearSpeakerSmith:WearewritingonbehalfofPennsylvaniamembersoftheFreedomFromReligionFoundation(FFRF)toobjecttotheprayersthatopenPennsylvaniaHousesessions.FFRFisanationwidenonprofitorganization,whichworkstoprotecttheconstitutionalprincipleofseparationofstateabdchurch.FFRFrepresentsmorethan17,500membersacrossthecountryincludingnearly600inPennsylvania.Onbehalfofourmembers,weformallyurgetheHousetodiscontinueschedulingprayers.WehaveincreasinglyreceivedcomplaintsfromPennsylvaniansaboutthereligiouspracticesoftheHouseofRepresentatives.Alongwithreligiousresolutions,suchasproclaiming2012"theYearoftheBible,"theHouse'sopeningprayersareinappropriateandunconstitutional.TheHouseopenssessionswithprayersthatarepervasivelyChristian.UponareviewoftheLegislativeJournalsfromthelastyear,itisapparentthatChristianitypredominates.TheGuestChaplainoftheHouse,oralegislator,deliversthesesectarianprayers.Ofthe83sessiondayswereviewedfromthejournals,nearlyalloftheprayersweredeliveredbyChristiansintheChristiantradition,withtheexceptionofjustafewbynon-Christianprayerofficiants.Manyprayersendedin"Jesus'name"oravariationthereofHereareafewexcerptsfromHouseprayers:OnJan.18,2011,Rep.GordonDenlingerprayedfortheincomingadministration,"Maythey,inhumility,understandtheneedtoseekcounselintimelesswisdomofYoursacredWord."Rep.Denlingerendedtheprayer,"ThesethingsIaskthroughJesusChrist,theredeemerandLord.Amen."OnOct.18,2011,inbeginningan8S0-wordprayer,Rev.LloydZimmermansaid,"ThankyouforsendingYourson,Jesus,todieonCalvary'scrosstosaveusfromsin."
DanBarkerandAnnieLaurieGaylor,
Co-Presidents
 
Adisturbingthemeintheprayersisthesubjugationoflegislatorstothesupposedwillofagod:OnJune15,2011,Rep.KarenBobackprayed,"DearLord,keepusmindfulthatinourcapacityaslegislators,werepresentYoufirst,andthenthosewhosentustothisgreatHouse.InYournamewepray.Amen."OnNov.15,2011,Rev.GrantAbeprayed,"Father,ourprayerforthesemenandwomenisthattheywouldshowgreathumilityastheydotheirjob,realizing,astheapostlePaulsaid,'...theauthoritiesthatexistareappointedbyGod.'Truly,Lord,theyareGod'sministerstousforgood."Theprayerended,"WeaskthisallinthestrongnameofJesusChrist.Amen."OnNov.16,2011,Rep.MatthewBakerprayed,"...thatwemayalwaysconductourselvesintheworldintheholinessandsinceritythatarefromGod,notaccordingtoworldlywisdombutaccordingtoGod'sgrace."Rep.Baker'sprayerended,
"It
isinourLordandSaviorJesus'namewepray.Amen."OnMarch27,2012,Rep.ThaddeusKirklandprayed,"Orderourfootsteps,guideourhearts,provideuswithwisdomandunderstandingfromonhighsothatwemightdoyourwillandyourwillonly.Weaskthisprayerinthemightyandpreciousnameofyourson..."Firstandforemost,prayeratgovernmentmeetingsisunnecessary,inappropriate,anddivisive.Representativesarefreetoprayprivatelyortoworshipontheirowntimeintheirownway.Theydonotneedtoworshipontaxpayers'time.TheHouseofRepresentativesoughtnottolenditspowerandprestigetoreligion,amountingtoagovernmentalendorsementthatexcludesthe15%ofPennsylvanianswhoidentifyasnonreligious
(AmericanReligiousIdentificationSurvey,
2008).
UnconstitutionalCoercionofCitizenParticipation
TheHousecoercescitizenstoparticipateandshowobeisancetotheprayer.InadditiontotherequestoftheSpeaker,andasignplacedoutsidethegallerythatasksobserverstostandfortheprayerandPledgeofAllegiance,weunderstandthatLegislativeSecurityOfficershaveconfrontedobserverswhodidnotparticipateintheprayer.TwomembersofFFRF,JustinVaculaandCarlSilverman,wereinthegalleryduringtheprayeronNovember15,2011.ALegislativeSecurityOfficerconfrontedthembecausethey
did
notstandinobservanceoftheprayerthatday.Mr.Vaculareportedthatashewassittingsilently,anofficerapproachedandaskedhimseveraltimestostand.TheprayerthatdaywasasectarianprayertoJesusthatinferredthatthelegislatorswerechosenbygod(asquotedabove).Mr.SilvermanhassaidthatsecurityofficersoftheHousehavebeenconfrontinghimforyearsoverhisrighttositfortheprayers.Suchinterferenceintheprivateconscienceofstatecitizensissimplyreprehensible.Callinguponrepresentativesandcitizenstoprayiscoerciveandbeyondtheauthorityofthegovernment.CitizensattendHousesessionstoobserveimportantdecisionsaffectingtheirlivelihood,theirproperty,andqualityoflife.Thesecitizensshouldnotbeoffended,excluded,orturnedintopoliticaloutsidersbecausethegovernmenttheysupportwiththeirtaxesimposesreligiousritualatcivilgovernmentmeetings.TheStateofPennsylvaniashouldnotbeinthebusinessofperformingreligiousrituals,orexhortingallcitizens,regardlessofbeliefs,to
2
 
participateinaChristianprayer,orevenaskingcitizenstoshowdeferenceorobeisancetothisritual.Requestsby(armed)LegislativeSecurityOfficerstospecificindividualstostandforprayerareunconstitutional.Thereisasubstantialbodyofcaselawfindingthatcitizenscannotbecoercedtoparticipateinexpressiveactivitiesthatwouldviolatetheirrightofconscience.AstheSupremeCourthassaid:Ifthereisanyfixedstarinourconstitutionalconstellation,itisthatnoofficial,highorpetty,canprescribewhatshallbeorthodoxinpolitics,nationalism,religion,orothermattersofopinionorforcecitizenstoconfessbywordoracttheirfaiththerein.
WestVirginiaStateBd.ofEd.v.Barnette,
319U.S.624.642(1943).Thecourtshavemadeclearthatindividualshavearighttositornotparticipateinsuchactivities.
Frazier
v.
Wil1l1,
535FJd1279,1282
(lIth
Cir.2008)("ThatstudentshaveaconstitutionalrighttoremainseatedduringthePledgeiswellestablished.");
SeealsoHollomanv.Harland,
370FJd1252(11
th
Cir.2004);
Goetz
v.
Ansell,
477F.2d636,(2
nd
Cir.1973);
Rabideauv.BeekmantownCent.SchoolDist.,
89F.Supp.2d263,267(N.D.N.Y.2000).Likewise,thegovernmentcannotdirectlypressureindividualstostandforaprayer.ThisprincipleisenshrinedintheFirstAmendmentandinthePennsylvaniaConstitution,whichprovidesthat"nohumanauthoritycan,inanycasewhatever,controlorinterferewiththerightsofconscience,andnopreferenceshalleverbegivenbylawtoanyreligiousestablishmentsormodesofworship."Art.1
§
3.
SectarianPrayers
TheprayersofferedbeforeHousesessionsdonotfallintothenarrowexceptionoftheconstitutionallypermissiblegovernment-sponsoredprayercarvedoutbytheSupremeCourt.In
Marshv.Chambers,
463U.S.783(1983),theSupremeCourtruledthattheNebraskalegislature'shistoryandtraditionofopeningwithaprayerwasaconstitutionalexception.TheCourtfoundgovernmentprayer,inthatcase,wasconfinedtoasituationinvolvinganon-sectarian,non-denominationalprayer,ledbyanofficiantwhohadnotbeenselectedbaseduponanyimpermissiblereligiousmotive,andwhichwasaddressedonlytothebodyoflegislators.
[d.
Additionally,theCourtheldthatlegislatorsmusthavetheoptionnottoparticipate.Theprayeropportunitymustnotbe"exploitedtoproselytizeoradvanceanyone,ortodisparageanyotherfaithorbelief."463U.S.at794-795.TheCourtexpresslynotedthatthecontentoftheprayerswaspermissiblebecausethechaplainhad"removedallreferencestoChrist."
[d.
at793n.14.In
Countya/Alleghenyv.ACLUGreaterPittsburghChapter,
492U.S.573,603(1989),theSupremeCourtfoundthat,evenifhistoryandcustomhadsavednon-sectarianlegislativeprayer,"historycannotlegitimatepracticesthatdemonstratethegovernment'sallegiancetoaparticularsectorcreed."Additionally,theCourtreiterated,"noteventhe'uniquehistory'oflegislativeprayer,canjustifycontemporarylegislativeprayersthathavetheeffectofaffiliatingthegovernmentwithanyonespecificfaithorbelief."
Id.
TheCourtcontinued,"Thelegislativeprayersinvolvedin
Marsh
didnotviolatethisprinciplebecausetheparticularchaplainhad'removedallreferencestoChrist.'"
[d.
3

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