After Tennessee’s governor declared that Thursday would be a “day of prayer and fasting” and invited all Tennesseans to participate, an atheist group responded by calling the initiative “inappropriate” and a “disservice to the Constitution.”
Republican Gov. Bill Lee first announced the voluntary day of observance on Sept. 18.
“We know that prayer accomplishes much,” he said in a video he posted to Twitter. “Prayer strengthens our families and it strengthens our communities. It strengthens our relationship with our neighbors. It strengthens our relationship with God himself.”
“Because of that, we have decided to proclaim an official day of prayer and fasting for our state on Oct. 10 this year,” he added.
— Governor Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) September 18, 2019
“On that day Maria and I will take the day to offer prayers of healing, prayers for forgiveness, prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of hope for our state and for the 6.7 million who call Tennessee home.”
Less than a week before Oct. 10, Lee shared the official proclamation for the Day of Prayer, Humility and Fasting.
The document was dated Oct. 4.
On Thursday, October 10th, @MariaLeeTN and I invite all Tennesseans who wish to participate to join us in a day of prayer for this remarkable state we’re blessed to call home. pic.twitter.com/A7nXwxnIIj
— Governor Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) October 4, 2019
Some commended the governor for taking such a bold stand for his faith, but others claimed it was a violation of the First Amendment.
Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the Freedom Against Religion Foundation, recently submitted to Op-Ed to the Knoxville News Sentinel in which they chastised Lee for proclaiming a day that “excludes those of no religious faith.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an atheist organization that is active in removing religion from the public square and says it works to “to promote the separation of state and church,” according to its website.
In the piece, titled, “Governor’s prayer and fasting proclamation is inappropriate,” Barker and Gaylor claimed the proclamation of the voluntary day of observance was a violation of the First Amendment’s clause regarding the establishment of religion.
“Gov. Bill Lee is doing a disservice to the Constitution — and his citizens — in declaring Oct. 10 as an official day of prayer and fasting,” the piece began.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages, as the governor must know,” they added.
“By issuing a proclamation calling on Tennessee citizens to pray, Lee abridges his duty as a public official to remain neutral.”
“In addition, proclaiming an official day of prayer is inappropriate and unnecessary as a matter of policy. Promotion of prayer by elected officials raises the distasteful appearance of political pandering to appeal to or appease a vocal Christian evangelical constituency,” the piece read.
David Plazas, director of opinion and engagement for the USA Today Network Tennessee, expressed some similar sentiments in an Op-Ed for the Nashville Tennessean.
Plazas made it clear that he doesn’t believe Lee’s proclamation violated the Constitution, as Barker and Gaylor claimed, but he did raise some concerns.
“I believe that the governor made his prayer proclamation with good intentions, but it creates a slippery slope,” he wrote after acknowledging the voluntary aspect of the event.
While Lee has faced scrutiny for his decision to declare such a faith-based day of observance, others are more supportive of government officials declaring days of prayer, noting that America’s very first president, George Washington, declared Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789 as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.
That day is now recognized in the United States as Thanksgiving, a national holiday.
Jeremy Dys, the First Liberty Institute’s special counsel for litigation and communications, told Fox News that days of prayer like the one observed in Tennessee on Thursday are “consistent with some of the most cherished and longstanding traditions of our country.”
“Presidents and governors alike have issued proclamations urging citizens to pray since the earliest days of our nation,” Dys said.
“The First Amendment to the Constitution supports Governor Lee’s proclamation in the same way it approved of similar proclamations from George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.