The founder of the Congressional Prayer Caucus says an atheist
group is attempting to censor the newest members of Congress from
voicing their support for prayer by joining the Caucus.
Newly elected members of Congress have received a letter from
the American Humanist Association warning them not to join the
Congressional Prayer Caucus. Roy Speckhardt, executive director of
the American Humanist Association, wrote in the letter: "Incoming House members should know
that approximately one in five of their constituents are not
religiously affiliated, and even more insist on maintaining the
wall of separation between church and state."
Speckhardt also argues in the letter that when public officials
and Congress explicitly endorse public prayer, "they alienate
millions of non-religious Americans who oppose the joining of
religion and government."
Congressman Rep. Randy
Forbes (R-Virginia) founded the Congressional Prayer Caucus in 2005. He says it
is his understanding that this is the first time a group has
attempted to keep someone from joining a caucus.
"What these extremist groups
are fighting for - and they've got a lot of dollars and they're
well orchestrated - is they want to make certain that no one in
government can even mention God or faith or religion, and no one in
the church can mention anything about government," the Republican
lawmaker explains. "That is far from what the First Amendment was
written to protect."
Forbes says the letter highlighted the group's opposition to "In
God We Trust" as the national motto and how the Caucus champions
prayer to begin sessions of Congress. "They have a
well-orchestrated attack, and now we've got these groups trying to
censor and silence people by saying We don't even want you to
join a caucus where you might get information about all these
religious tacks that are going on."
The Congressional Prayer Caucus has more than 100 members and
has widespread bipartisan support. It gathers weekly for prayer in
room 217, just off the House floor in the U.S. Capitol. Forbes
currently co-chairs the Caucus along with Congressman Mike McIntyre