Atheists Claim Congressional Prayer Caucus Treats Them Like 'Second Hand Citizens'

The Nov. 6 general elections overall could be seen as a major victory for Democrats, but atheists concerned that Republicans have won control of the U.S. House of Representatives have composed an open letter asking lawmakers to refuse to join the Congressional Prayer Caucus, because it treats them like "second class citizens."

"Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus have repeatedly introduced and supported legislation that many secular Americans feel is unconstitutional and often favors Christianity above all other religions," said American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt, whose organization sent the open letter to U.S. representatives.

Notable democratic victories on Election Day included President Barack Obama's re-election, the approval of same-sex marriage in the four states that held a voter referendum, and Democrats winning 53 Senate seats against 47 for the Republicans. The Republican Party retained control of the House of Representatives, however, winning 242 seats against 193 for the Democrats. The Congressional Prayer Caucus represents a group of representatives from the House who join together to recognize the role prayer has in the lives of people of faith, and to promote prayer as a means to unite and empower people and protect religious freedom in America.

The Caucus was founded in 2005 by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (VA), and the group say their main goal is to "preserve the presence of religion, faith, and morality in the marketplace of ideas."

The atheist organization argues, however, that the Caucus regularly imposes religious ideals on others, such as their defense of Christian crosses being used in public institutions or property.

"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 continued. "Secular Americans are ready to work with all members of the 113th Congress, regardless of their personal beliefs, if they agree on this basic constitutional principle."

The letter reads: "The Congressional Prayer Caucus is also one of the leading advocates for opening and closing each session of Congress with prayer, which regulates non-religious Americans and other who don't pray to the status of second-class citizens."

The atheist organization recognizes that prayer is an important practice for many Americans, and insists they should have the right to pray in their individual time – but that Congress should not endorse such religious practices that "alienate" those who do not believe in it.

Speckhardt, who signed the letter, ends it with a call to the newly elected leaders to continue defending the separation of church and state.

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