Government-Supported Religion

Government Prayers In Your Name? We’re Not OK With That

Religious belief in America runs the gamut, not to mention the growing number of Americans who have no religious affiliation or are nonbelievers. No single prayer can represent all Americans.

Yet, government-sponsored invocations, prayers, and religious statements are common before sessions of Congress, state legislatures, and local governments. And public officials promote official days of prayer.

The government is supposed to represent us, but official prayers leave many out. No one should feel that they have to pray in order to be welcome in our nation or be treated fairly by their government officials.

What you need to know

Government-Sponsored Prayer Is Divisive

Guest ministers and political leaders have used opening prayers at legislative sessions to encourage legislators to take anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ positions. In many communities, members of minority faiths and secularist groups have been excluded from making similar opening statements. AU won a lawsuit on behalf of David Williamson, who offered the first secular invocation in the history of Brevard County, FL.

A Relic of the Cold War

Many “traditions” of government prayer did not originate in our founding, nor were they part of the Framers’ plan. In fact, the National Day of Prayer was enacted only in 1952. As with the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the move came during the Cold War to contrast the more religious United States with the officially atheistic Soviet Union.

Other Alternatives Exist

Members of legislative bodies can pray privately before meetings or host a moment of silence, allowing attendees to pray or not as conscience dictates. Making a public display of prayer is seen by many devout people as a hypocritical effort by politicians to assume a role that should stay in the hands of religious leaders.


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