church and state hi res_newWritten by Don Byrd

May 7 marked the troubling yearly tradition of the National Day of Prayer, in which the President issues a proclamation inviting Americans to engage in prayer according to our individual faith and conscience. As I wrote then, the National Day of Prayer is a bad idea. We don’t need government officials telling us when to pray, or determining which days we should pray together, but the President’s proclamation at least envisions Americans of all faiths praying according to the dictates of their conscience.

That nod to our nation’s religious diversity seems to be missing, however, from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s invitation to a day of prayer in that state in June. As Reverend Neal Jones points out in an op-ed for The State, the event the Governor is promoting – called “The Response” – seems designed entirely for Christians. Here is an excerpt from his column:

I had assumed that this event was for all people of faith, but then I read on “The Response” website that “this is a time for Christians to come together to call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.” So I’m guessing that Unitarian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, pagan and Baha’i South Carolinians are not invited to the North Charleston Coliseum, to say nothing of humanists, atheists, agnostics, skeptics or free thinkers. I realize that the majority of South Carolinians do call themselves Christian, but hey, the rest of us are South Carolinians, too.

You can visit The Response website here to see for yourself. A video from Governor Haley inviting South Carolinians to join the event is here. While the Governor does not mention that it is a Christian event, the Response website states its goal this way: “We desire that the presence, power, and person of Christ to fill our nation and turn the hearts of millions to righteousness, peace, and joy in Him.”

The South Carolina Baptist Convention advertises the Response as “[p]aid for, and planned by American Renewal Project, 501c3 whose vision is to move the nation towards Judeo-Christian beliefs . . .” and notes that “Evangelical Christians only to lead in program.”

I am all for Christians voluntarily coming together to pray. But is this the kind of faith-exclusive event a state’s Governor should be using the office to promote?