MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to assert that she violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by recently promoting Christianity during a coronavirus press conference.
On April 3, Ivey held a press conference in which she advised that she was issuing a stay-at-home order in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, she cited Scripture as an exhortation to viewers.
“The good Lord reminds us in Isaiah 43:1-3, and I quote, ‘Do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with My righteous hand,'” she said.
“Folks, now is the time to make a difference,” Ivey added. “Now is the time to be strong and now is to be together Alabama, even when we [stand] six feet apart.”
Cromwell Handy, the pastor of Dexter Avenue Memorial King Baptist Church — which was once led by Martin Luther King, Jr. — later took the podium and also encouraged the people from the Scriptures.
“I didn’t come to preach to you, but only to remind us that I believe and we all know that only God can push the pause button on the world. Its busy schedule and all of its activities are paused, and opportunity [has been made for] a selah to reflect on the King of Glory,” he said.
“The good news for this … moment in the history of the world is that the Lord is the King of Glory and as children of God, we shall not fear, even in death,” Handy stated.
“Did you know that we have the power to choose at this time, joy and peace, despite the troubles of the world? Nothing can take this away from us. The world didn’t give it to us, and the world can’t take it away. A time to enjoy our family, and a time to maybe discover who your neighbors truly are.”
He later led those present and those watching in prayer, acknowledging the sovereignty of God and closing in Jesus’ name.
However, FFRF says that the remarks made by Ivey and Handy violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Preaching and praying as part of an official state-sponsored press conference sends the message that you, as governor, and the State of Alabama prefer and endorse religion, specifically the Christian faith,” reads a letter sent to the governor on Monday, signed by husband and wife FFRF leaders Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“The decision to preach and to invite a reverend to pray as part of a state press conference sends an unfortunate official message of endorsement of religion over non-religion by the highest executive office in the state — a message that inevitably excludes many of your constituents and has a proselytizing intent,” it states.
FFRF opines that Ivey could have done without public prayer and religion in her press conference while encouraging residents to stay safe.
“[W]e urge you in the future to refrain from promoting religion in your official capacity as governor of Alabama,” Barker and Gaylor wrote. “Leaving religion as a private matter for private citizens is the wisest public policy. Observing a strict separation of Church and State offends no one and honors the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Ivey’s office has stood its ground as press secretary Gina Maiola told AL.com, “The governor has never shied away from her faith, and whether you are a person of faith or not, everyone is given the right of freedom of religion or freedom of speech under the First Amendment. She believes that faith and hope is never needed more than now in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As previously reported, on March 23, 1798 — less than 12 years after the signing of the U.S. Constitution — John Adams, the second president of the United States, called for a day of national repentance, prayer and fasting.
“[T]he safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness cannot exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed,” he wrote.
James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, similarly called for a national day of prayer on July 9, 1812.
“I do therefore recommend the third Thursday in August next as a convenient day to be set apart for the devout purposes of rendering the Sovereign of the universe and the Benefactor of mankind the public homage due to His holy attributes; of acknowledging the transgressions which might justly provoke the manifestations of His divine displeasure; of seeking His merciful forgiveness and His assistance in the great duties of repentance and amendment, and especially of offering fervent supplications, that in the present season of calamity and war, He would take the American People under His peculiar care and protection.”
In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill calling for a national fast day and urging Americans to repent of their sins before God.
“[I]t is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord,” the proclamation, written by Iowa Sen. James Harlan, read.
“[I]nsomuch we know that by His Divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people,” it stated.