Fight Back Against the Use of God in the Inauguration

A couple weeks ago, Barack Obama picked Rick Warren to deliver his Inauguration’s invocation prayer. The gay community was (rightfully) mad. At the same time, Obama announced that Rev. Joseph Lowery would give the benediction prayer. Lowery is a little better on gay issues, but he still opposes gay marriage.

Atheists were mad that prayer was being used in the inauguration in the first place: Why was he mixing church and state? (We even filed a lawsuit.)

What has Obama done to respond to our frustration and anger?

He’s brought on two more Christian pastors.

Sharon Watkins will deliver a prayer next Wednesday (after the Inauguration) at the Washington National Cathedral as part of the National Prayer Service. She’s part of a liberal church. Good for her. But this is a problem.

Rev. Gene Robinson will offer a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial this Sunday. Robinson is an openly gay bishop. Good for him. He says he will offer a prayer for the whole nation, not just Christians, but he’s part of the problem, too.

What’s the problem?

There shouldn’t be prayer at these government gatherings in the first place.

Many are public events funded by taxpayer money. They should be free of religion.

So here’s what I’m doing and where I could use your help.

I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot of God talk over the next week from these four pastors. For every mention of the words “Jesus,” “Lord,” “God,” or “Christ” during the four prayers next week, I am going to make a $5 donation to the Secular Coalition for America — a lobbying group in Washington working to support the rights of non-religious people and educating Congress about the separation of church and state.

Will you do the same?

Pledge the amount you plan to give per Godly-word-mentioned in the comments — any amount is ok! Then honor your commitment after next Wednesday. I’ll tally the numbers and report back.

Please spread the word — blog it, Facebook it, inform the social bookmarkers — and help raise money for a good cause.

Let’s turn this travesty into something positive.

  • ungullible

    I’m not sure I agree with this cause. Inadequate separation of church and state is when the government is promoting or favoring one religious view over others. But that is not what is happening here. Obama is not requiring us to pray along with him. These are his ceremonies, not ours. We are observers, not participants. And as such, these are his choices to make. Forcing him to remove his religious views from them would be an improper restriction on his freedom of religious expression, IMO.

    I do agree that we are free to complain about his choices. I’m not happy about what some of these pastors represent either. But I think it is a big error to call it a church/state separation issue.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    I agree with the main point of your call to arms, Hemant, and I intend to donate to the Secular Coalition of America’s efforts.

    But be aware that a lot of the festivities surrounding the inauguration — not just the black-tie gala balls but a lot of the ceremony and other events — are actually paid for with private funds. Public funds are used to pay for security and crowd control and a significant fraction of that is simply a result of the fact that the President is involved doing anything.

    And the other thing of it is, it’s Obama’s party and he gets to have prayers if he wants them. I’m much less exercised about the public prayers in this context than I might be in another context, such as an overtly religious display on public property or requiring schoolchildren to pray.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Honestly, is anyone surprised by this? I know most of the atheist community went gaga over Obama, but were we really so blind that we didn’t think Obama would tow the religious line?
    The inauguration won’t look much different with Obama than it would have if McCain were on the podium. Well, except for the whole “first black President” thing… details

    It’s still kind of puzzling to me when I read what I interpret to be a fair amount of surprise on the atheist blogs regarding the central role religion, specifically Christianity, will play in the ceremony.

    Could it be that Obama looks on us – atheists – as a political liability, just like nearly every other politician does?

    Yes it could.

  • http://ayrshireblog.blogspot.com Bunc

    I am sure I read something yesterday that sugggested that he was gong to be using an openly GAY pastor at the inauguration. Heck that will turn all those Christians schizo – they wont know wether to cheer or be sick.

  • http://www.itsallaboutmesometimes.blogspot.com Red

    Could he be just trying to show the public that he is indeed of Christian faith and has no ties what so ever to Islam?

    I mean who gives a care anyway. I don’t care if he worships sidewalk chalk. If he can fix this country, I will mail him a box of chalk myself.

    But I still believe he is trying to cover all the bad press that was slammed upon him during his campaign.

  • Spurs Fan

    These are his ceremonies, not ours. We are observers, not participants. And as such, these are his choices to make. Forcing him to remove his religious views from them would be an improper restriction on his freedom of religious expression, IMO.

    Perhaps this is the root of the issue. Are these truly “his ceremonies”? Is this not someone we hired? If anyone’s job is truly not their own, isn’t the U.S. President the one? If President Bush had been sporting a confederate flag at his inauguaration, would this be okay because it’s “his party”?

    Perhaps this is a bad comparsion, but it is still something to ponder.

  • PrimeNumbers

    All depends on where the money is coming from. If it’s his private finances, then he can do what he likes. Spend one dime of public money, then no gods.

  • Erp

    Gene Robinson is the openly gay pastor in a civil union with his partner of 20 years. He was also made a bishop by the Episcopal Church with everyone knowing he was gay and partnered (he had to wear a bullet proof vest for the consecration due to death threats) though that was not the reason he was chosen (the diocese of New Hampshire elected him because they knew him and the work he had done such as visiting prisoners).

    “Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was ‘horrified’ at how ‘specifically and aggressively Christian they were.’” (New York Times)

    “While that [the Bible] is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans,” Robinson said. “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.” (Concord)

    It will be interesting to see if he remembers the non-theists; we know
    Rick Warren is unlikely to remember even the non-Christians.

    Oh, and many conservative Christians are going a bit crazy over this. Sharon Watkins as a woman and a liberal Christian giving the sermon the day after (the single longest religious bit) probably isn’t helping their blood pressure. I wonder about the screams when Obama has a Muslim give one of the prayers at the next day prayer service (Bush actually invited one so it wouldn’t be a first but he called in sick).

  • http://peteeddy.blogspot.com/ Pete

    You said there’s no place for religion. Why’s there a place for no religion (i.e., atheism), then? Government should function on a type of charitable pluralism, not a secularism where everyone is so scared of controversy that they cannot even ask what religion another person is.

    The reality is that there are many religions. Assuming that atheism is true, and running government as though it were (i.e., devoid of God-reference), does not solve the problem. (Just as assuming Christianity is true, which I think is accurate, and christianizing government would not work either.)

  • Slippy`

    “I’m not sure I agree with this cause. Inadequate separation of church and state is when the government is promoting or favoring one religious view over others. But that is not what is happening here. Obama is not requiring us to pray along with him. These are his ceremonies, not ours. We are observers, not participants. And as such, these are his choices to make. Forcing him to remove his religious views from them would be an improper restriction on his freedom of religious expression, IMO.

    I do agree that we are free to complain about his choices. I’m not happy about what some of these pastors represent either. But I think it is a big error to call it a church/state separation issue.”

    I strongly disagree. Any involvement of religion in politics whatsoever is a violation of the separation of church and state in my eyes. I understand that this is impossible as long as we have any religious elected officials, but obama and co. could at least attempt to act like they believe in the constitution rather than piss all over it with this blatant endorsement of religion, christianity no less.

    “You said there’s no place for religion. Why’s there a place for no religion (i.e., atheism), then? Government should function on a type of charitable pluralism, not a secularism where everyone is so scared of controversy that they cannot even ask what religion another person is.

    The reality is that there are many religions. Assuming that atheism is true, and running government as though it were (i.e., devoid of God-reference), does not solve the problem. (Just as assuming Christianity is true, which I think is accurate, and christianizing government would not work either.)”

    Government should be free of interference from all religions. Atheism is no more a religion than science is a religion.

  • Aj

    Why’s there a place for no religion (i.e., atheism), then?

    Do you even know what you’re saying? I sure don’t.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.co.uk Alex Fear

    I have to laugh when I read posts like this.

    I remember not so long ago atheists on rd.net with Obama-fever trying to come up with reasons why he was embracing Christians.. till it came to the theory and consensus that he was “pretending” to be Christian to win religious people on board.

    I haven’t been back there recently so I don’t know what the reaction is but just the thought of their reactions just cracks me up.

    Oh and kudos to the moderates on here who don’t feel the need to overreact. ;)

  • DSimon

    I’m somewhat broke, but I’ll donate $1 per word, Hemant. I expect that’ll still add up to quite a bit by the end.

    Pete: we’re not trying to add atheism to the ceremonies, we’re trying to disentangle them from religion entirely. I’d be just as annoyed if the ceremony were anti-religious as I am that it is pro-religious.

    The goal is neutrality.

  • DSimon

    BTW, Hemant, you will be letting us know the final word count here on the blog, right?

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    Another little thing that doesn’t involve any $ (athought that’s a good idea too). There is a page hosted by the Library of Congress that says that George Washington “Pronounced the words, “So help me God” after taking the oath; other presidents have followed this example.” There is a feedback button on the bottom. You can ask them to cite or correct their statement about Washington. Better yet there is a “For additional assistance: Contact the Library of Congress” link. On this page there is a “Web Site Comments’ link…where you can paste the link to the page and politely ask them to cite or correct the fact. On this form there is a spot for your email address. I filled out this form and I got a response from a researcher at the LOC who said they are looking in to it and will get back to me. It might help if a few more people also sent in similar requests to keep them focused on getting to the bottom of the issue.

    It is especially important that the Library of Congress have the right information on it’s site, since other sites cite it… like CNN.

  • Dave Huntsman

    BIshop Robinson sounds like a nice, thoughtful guy; so I sent him the following email today, which I posted at Cleveland Freethinkers.

    http://www.meetup.com/clevelandfreethinkers/messages/boards/thread/6094752

  • ungullible

    I strongly disagree. Any involvement of religion in politics whatsoever is a violation of the separation of church and state in my eyes.

    Then I’m afraid you misunderstand the establishment clause of the Constitution.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    It says that the government may not establish or favor any one religion over another. It does not say that the government must entirely avoid the subject altogether. I agree that avoiding the subject altogether is often the safest and easiest way for the government to comply with this clause, but it’s not the only way. For example, a public holiday display on government property can comply by representing all of it’s citizens’ beliefs. But as we’ve seen recently, that can get complicated and ugly, so your solution to avoid it altogether is probably best.

    Obama choosing a pastor to participate in his inauguration is not an act of the government establishing a law regarding religion. If he were *required* to have one, then that would be a violation. And I think similarly, if he were requireed *not* to have one, that might also be a violation because the establishment clause prohibits the gov’t from interfering with the free exercise of religion.

    I think we atheists do ourselves a disservice when we push the establishment clause too far and try to remove all utterances of religion from everything governmental. It gives credence to the Christians’ complaints that we are trying to force our beliefs on them. All I want is a government that doesn’t take sides.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    BTW, Hemant, you will be letting us know the final word count here on the blog, right?

    Of course!

  • benjdm

    Please don’t moderate all the pledges. Or at least don’t moderate this comment (mine.) Moderating all of them makes it look like no one is putting any money up.

    I’m in for $2 per mention. If the count is very low (which I don’t expect), I’ll up it after the fact.

    ETA: huh….I tried to post something like this twice before and it just disappeared. I assumed it was being moderated for some reason. Guess not.

  • http://brokenocean.wordpress.com Nick

    I’d like to remind everyone that the term “God” and the term “religion” are not mutually inclusive. A person can believe in God and not be religious. Many of my friends would fit the bill. I have a cousin who considers himself a Buddhist, a spiritual fellow who just happens to think God’s existence or non-existence is irrelevant. (Not hardline atheism, sure, but certainly not theism either.)

    The opposite of atheism is theism, not religion. “So help me God” won’t bother me. If Obama says, “So help me, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, benevolent ruler who will guide my actions in the Oval Office” then I’ll be slightly concerned.

  • http://peteeddy.blogspot.com/ Pete

    Government should be free of interference from all religions. Atheism is no more a religion than science is a religion.

    If I were to say to you, “Government should be free of interference from all atheists, freethinkers, evolutionists and agnostics,” that would be me forcing the government to act on behalf of my worldview. But the claim is the same as what Slippy` said, except excluding a different party.

    I think that the exclusion is inconsistent.

  • http://peteeddy.blogspot.com/ Pete

    DSimon wrote,

    Pete: we’re not trying to add atheism to the ceremonies, we’re trying to disentangle them from religion entirely. I’d be just as annoyed if the ceremony were anti-religious as I am that it is pro-religious.

    The goal is neutrality.

    I’m not trying to manipulate your words to mean something that you didn’t. So correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to set up a parallel with the two following clauses: “we’re not trying to add atheism to the ceremonies . . .” and “I’d be just as annoyed if the ceremony were anti-religious . . .” Would you only consider the inauguration to be atheistic if it were anti-theistic?

    My concern lies in the way that this issue is being argued. Suppose you remove God-language, and you remove prayer because it would imply the existence of God from the inauguration and future government affairs. You might call it secularism, but realistically, there’s no God, atheos. It’s atheistic.

    As a Christian I think that a government which admits that there are multiple beliefs, protects the laws that are democratically enacted by the majority, protects individuals and minorities from being forced to believe anything, and is not a wing of one particular religion, is the most consistent form of government. This is probably what Jefferson had in mind when he used the words “a wall of separation,” considering he read Scripture at government events.

    If the president were Jewish, and he brought in rabbis to pray, I would not be offended. If the president were an atheist, and did not have an invocation, I’d be fine with that. If I lived in France I would not complain that there’s no God-language or prayer there in their government proceedings. I would be disappointed that it is so unchristian, but not that the civil operation isn’t acting Christian.

    As I see it (and have argued), the desire to eliminate God overtones is forcing atheism within this sphere, based on separation of church and state. It’s an incorrect application of separation of church and state. It would be no different than me saying that it should be strictly evangelical in its trimmings.