The city of Mount Vernon, Ill., recently issued an extraordinarily strange and highly problematic proclamation. In a statement signed by the mayor, the city announced June 20, 2019, to be a day to “recognize God in our City.” Further, Mount Vernon took the step of officially recognizing “the biblical five-fold ministry of apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors, and evangelists.”
Beyond the plain violation of the First Amendment’s protection against government-established religion, why, you may ask, would the local government even feel the need to proclaim a day of godly recognition in a state that is over 70 percent practicing Christian? The recognition day is crucial to the community, said Mayor John Lewis (not to be confused with the current member of Congress and civil rights icon), in order to “renounce the spiritual attacks over [the] city.” It is unclear from the statement what on earth he is talking about.
Although the proclamation’s intent is, without doubt, to take a sledgehammer to the separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution, the mayor felt the need to spell it out so no person could misinterpret the city’s goal. “Mount Vernon, Illinois stands with the church,” is the opening sentence to the document under which Lewis penned his signature. In other words, the city unilaterally decided to discard the separation of church and state in favor of the mayor’s preferred vision of a Christian theocracy.
Eric Burton, the president of Groundbreaker International, a ministry affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination in Columbus, Ind., wrote in a Facebook post that he was “at a loss for words” for how successful the “recognize God” day had been for the city. According to Burton, not only were "people’s bodies [sic] healed including, thyroid lumps, fibromyalgia pain, bronchitis, and many other ailments,” but also four people were “filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.”
Unfortunately, no proof was provided of these miracles apparently brought about through legalized, government preference of Christianity other than his Facebook post.
At Americans United, our highest mission is to ensure the complete separation between government and religious associations. Proclamations like this are difficult to challenge in court because they don’t carry the force of law, but they’re still inappropriate.
Violations such as the proclamation issued by Lewis in Mount Vernon strike to the core of AU’s mission. The blatant attempt to marginalize some religious traditions in favor of others is hurtful, discriminatory and unconstitutional. If you would like to help us in our mission, please join us here!
Image: Mount Vernon Mayor John Lewis (center) surrounded by evangelists. Via Facebook.