After being heaped with abuse over the past eight years, the Establishment Clause needs a 'fierce advocate' indeed in the White House. Take this unparalleled opportunity, Mr. President-Elect, to rebuild that wall of separation between church and state."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog, and the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics with more than 13,000 members, has gone one step further than others decrying the selection of Rev. Rick Warren to lead the inaugural invocation.
The Foundation is asking President-Elect Barack Obama to drop prayer and religious ritual entirely from the official ceremony, and to keep the Presidential oath secular. The Presidential oath or affirmation, as dictated in the U.S. Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8, has no reference to a god, or instructions to place a hand on a bible.
"The First Amendment guarantees all American citizens the free exercise of religion. But the Establishment Clause requires that the President or other elected officials be scrupulous in conscientiously separating personal religious views from their government actions and duties," write Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-presidents, in a letter to Obama.
"Wholly aside from the selection of the unsuitable Rev. Warren, the scheduling of prayer by two Christian ministers at the formal Inauguration gives the unavoidable appearance of uniting Christianity and the Presidency," they wrote President-Elect Obama. The pair point out that choosing two Christian ministers to pray simply signals "religious orthodoxy," but that any ministers chosen would by definition alienate or exclude at least some Americans.
However, Barker and Gaylor added:
"We agree with Rev. Warren’s critics that such an unsuitable choice is a slap in the face to countless Americans besides the sizeable 16 percent who are nonreligious. You chide critics of this selection by saying people can 'disagree without being disagreeable,' yet ignore the fact that your selection confers the Presidential stamp of approval upon Rev. Warren and appears to legitimize some very disagreeable pronouncements. To reward such a divisive figurehead is an unnecessary affront, not only to gay Americans, feminists and supporters of our Constitution, but to anyone who is concerned about nipping in the bud our country’s 'roadtrip to theocracy.' "
They took issue with Obama's defense that choosing Warren shows that “we are diverse and noisy and opinionated.”
"A little more diversity and a lot less noise from the religious right in our government proceedings would be far much appreciated!" added Gaylor in a separate statement.
"The selection of a prominent supporter of California’s Proposition 8 to pray at the Inauguration inflicts insult upon gays and lesbians already grievously injured by the purely religious-based campaign to deny them marriage equality," the Foundation letter says.
Noting Warren's cruel disagreement with the idea that "abortions should be safe and rare," the Foundation letter adds that American women "surely do not deserve to be preached at by someone who belongs to a denomination that refuses to ordain women and openly tells wives to 'submit' to husbands."
The Foundation also noted that Obama "would be properly appalled if a hostile international leader singled out a cleric who had endorsed assassination of the American President," as Obama has done in inviting Warren, who publicly stated that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad needs to be assassinated.
"After being heaped with abuse over the past eight years, the Establishment Clause needs a 'fierce advocate' indeed in the White House. Take this unparalleled opportunity, Mr. President-Elect, to rebuild that wall of separation between church and state," concludes the letter.
"Obama played too close with the ministerial fire with Rev. Wright," adds Barker. "He's already been burned once, but apparently hasn't learned his lesson."
Click here to see our debate on Pastor Rick Warren.