In a move straight out of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s playbook, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad issued an official proclamation instructing citizens to pray and repent and presided over a revival event on the grounds of the state capitol.

In April, Branstad signed the proclamation urging everyone in the state of Iowa to repent and pray daily. He also invited them to join in a day of prayer, fasting and repentance on July 14 on the grounds of the state capitol.

That proclamation says:

“Now, Therefore, I, Terry E Branstad, as Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby invite all Iowans who choose to join in the thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014.”

He added at the signing that his action was in line with George Washington, who started the tradition of presidents formally asking Americans to pray and repent.

In keeping with the selected Bible passage, the revival at the statehouse began at 7:14 a.m. on the 14th and ran until 7:14 p.m. The Des Moines Register reported that “hundreds of Christians” attended the rally. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds both addressed attendees.

“We have a long and proud tradition in America of having leaders who recognize this is a nation that has been truly blessed by God from the very beginning,” Branstad said.

An event attendee, Sara DeMeulenaere of Fort Dodge, told the Register that the event “is about repentance and people coming together and unifying the body of Christ for our nation ... and bringing righteousness and justice back to our governing sectors and our lives.”

The Iowa event, “Pray 7/14/14,” was one of several rallies held at statehouses nationwide that day. (Tennessee was also among the participants).

So much is wrong here from both a historical and church-state separation perspective. First, as Americans United has detailed many times, George Washington’s level of religious devotion remains unclear. Yes, he did sign a thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, but there is no evidence that he ever held any kind of official prayer rally.

And although Washington was nominally an Anglican, it seems he flirted with deism. He never wrote as eloquently about religious freedom as Thomas Jefferson, but that doesn’t mean Washington would have been a Religious Right ally or a fundamentalist Christian. Far from it.

As such, it seems Branstad’s attempt to link himself with Washington is disingenuous.

More importantly, it is wildly inappropriate for a sitting governor to encourage all citizens to pray and repent. A governor’s proclamations may not be legally binding, but one like Branstad’s sends a clear message: atheists – and even non-Christians – are not favored by his administration.

The timing of this “Pray 7/14/14” event is also pretty suspect. Branstad is up for reelection this year, so it’s safe to say he’s wearing his faith on his sleeve to score cheap political points. Faith is too important to be devalued by political stunts and Branstad should know better.

Branstad may think his proclamation will unify Iowans, but in reality it will further divide various groups who already don’t see eye-to-eye. As he seeks a sixth (!) term, he’d be wise to drop the evangelist role and focus on public policy instead of prayer.