Hattiesburg, Mississippi – A prominent atheist activist organization has made the City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi one of its latest targets as it is seeking to thwart a government-sponsored prayer breakfast scheduled for next month.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent a letter to Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree urging him to immediately pull out of the prayer breakfast, which is to be held in conjunction with the annual National Day of Prayer and will feature music from legendary Gospel singer Andre Crouch.
“Your participation in this annual event, and the City’s overt coordination of the event, poses serious constitutional concerns,” the letter states. “[I]t is grossly illegal and inappropriate for the City to be hosting, organizing, supporting or otherwise promoting a patently religious event such as a prayer breakfast.”
It asserts that those who are not Christians will feel inferior if the event goes forward because their beliefs are not endorsed by the government.
“The prayer breakfast … sends the message that the City not only prefers religion over non-religion, but also Christianity over other religions,” the letter contends. “It alienates non-believers in Hattiesburg by turning them into political outsiders in their own community, in violation of the Establishment Clause, which requires government neutrality toward religion.”
FFRF is subsequently asking that Mayor DuPree immediately remove all information from the City website pertaining to the event, to cease selling tickets from government offices and to disassociate with the breakfast as it surrounds hosting, organizing or coordinating the efforts. The organization also argues that even if the event were a private prayer gathering, the mayor still could not sanction or attend it.
“Even were the prayer breakfast sponsored by an outside religious organization or church, any insinuation that you attend and ‘bless’ these religious events in your official capacity as mayor raises grave Establishment Clause concerns,” the letter asserts.
However, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a prominent Christian legal organization headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, has also sent a letter notifying Mayor DuPree that the prayer breakfast is both legal and appropriate.
“You can be confident that your participation in and acknowledgement of the National Day of Prayer are constitutionally protected activities,” the letter states. “You are free to proclaim your city’s support for this event, and you are under no obligation to satisfy the demands of any disgruntled individual or civil libertarian group that may oppose such action.”
It notes that from the time of the nation’s founding, presidents throughout history have made official proclamations concerning national days of prayer, fasting and repentance.
“The tradition of designating an official day of prayer actually began with the Continental Congress in 1775,” it explained. “Since that time, American Presidents have continued this important tradition. In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a joint resolution by Congress to ‘set [ ] aside an appropriate day as a National Day of Prayer.’ In 1988, the law was amended by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan to specify the annual event should be observed on ‘the first Thursday in May in each year.’”
“[H]istorically, all governors from all 50 states, along with the president of the United States, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer,” ADF asserted in its letter. “There is no basis to suggest that a mayor or city council member could not do the same.”
The organization then urged Mayor DuPree to proceed with his plans.
“It is both lawful and wise for public officials to respect and cherish our religious heritage, and to encourage all Americans to invoke God’s protection and guidance over our nation,” ADF wrote. “We hope that this letter will encourage you to continue your Mayor’s Annual Prayer Breakfast, as planned, and to join the countless other national, state, and local leaders who honor the National Day of Prayer.”
There is no word as of yet regarding the City’s decision following receipt of the letters from both organizations.