Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said Wednesday it plans to use an interfaith service in Oklahoma as a model for alternatives to the National Day of Prayer, which the group says “has been held captive by the religious right.”
AU Executive Director Barry Lynn was a scheduled speaker for the Thursday event, called “Let Freedom Ring” on steps of the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.
It coincided with a “Judeo-Christian” National Day of Prayer ceremony inside the Capitol, coordinated by a national organization led by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
“The National Day of Prayer has become an excuse for the religious right to practice exclusion and peddle bad history,” Lynn said in press release. “We want to offer an alternative.”
While the National Day of Prayer was declared by an act of Congress, many events are planned by Dobson’s private National Day of Prayer Task Force. While the task force says its rallies are open to anyone, sponsors must endorse an evangelical faith statement that includes belief in biblical inerrancy and that faith in Christ is the only way to be saved.
“The Dobsons are essentially telling people of other faith traditions that they are not welcome and to take a hike,” Lynn said.
In contrast, Lynn said, AU’s event “is about inclusion, not exclusion. It’s a different celebration that honors the Constitution and celebrates our diversity.”
Co-sponsored by Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, the event was to include speakers from the Jewish, Islamic, Pagan and non-theistic communities. Lynn said AU hopes to export the Oklahoma City event, now in its second year, to other communities.
Earlier a lead organizer of the interfaith event, Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, criticized Oklahoma City’s First Baptist Church for withdrawing permission to allow participants to use church facilities for a Thursday evening question-and-answer session featuring Lynn.
“Anyone who has followed Baptists knows that they have been backsliding from their commitment to religious liberty for all Americans for 25 years,” Prescott said in a statement. “Apparently a number of people at First Baptist are uncomfortable with the Baptist legacy supporting church/state separation, and the current leadership of the church is too timid to address it.”
First Baptist Pastor Tom Ogburn on Thursday told EthicsDaily.com the church has not waned in its historic commitment to the separation of church and state, but the event in question turned out to be different from the way it was described when staff members agreed to open the church’s doors to Prescott’s group.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.