As 2020 comes to a close and the United States continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, the governor of Mississippi has called for a statewide day of prayer, humility and fasting.
During a press conference aired on Facebook Live Wednesday, Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Miss., reflected on the challenges Mississippians faced throughout the year, including the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment, economic uncertainty and natural disasters.
“This has been a challenging, dare I say a very, very hard year for so many of our fellow Mississippians,” he said. “There has been so much suffering and for many of our fellow Mississippians, we continue to suffer.”
“As we close out this year, I felt the need to go to God in prayer for our state. Ever since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve tried to hold opportunities for our fellow Mississippians to pray, to pray together so we can be together,” he asserted. “We know that there is power in prayer. In fact, it is what God commands us to do.”
“Today, I will sign a proclamation to declare a day of prayer, humility and fasting on this upcoming Sunday, Dec. 20,” Reeves announced. “As we have done throughout the history of this country, we will go to the Lord and ask for His protective hand over us as we conclude the year 2020 and as we enter the year 2021.”
The Rev. David Tipton read aloud the proclamation which said, in part: We seek that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it, that our civil and religious privileges may be preserved inviolate and perpetuated to the latest generations, that our public counsels and magistrates may especially enlighten and direct it at this critical period.”
“I ask that our people devote themselves in continuous prayer as we rise to each new day and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips invoking thy help to our efforts,” Tipton continued. Tipton stressed that participation in the day of prayer, humility and fasting was “voluntary.”
After signing the proclamation, Reeves remarked that “2020, as challenging as it has been for all of us, has truly shown the true spirit of Mississippi and the true, loving, kind type of people that we are.” Reeves thanked the people of his state for “building up an even better Mississippi” before inviting the Rev. Danny Powell to lead a closing prayer.
In response to the event, the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation called on Reeves to revoke his prayer proclamation.
“By issuing a proclamation calling on Mississippi citizens to pray, you abridge your duty to remain neutral and to respect the freedom of conscience of all your citizens,” FFRF co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Reeves.
“Whether to pray, and whether to believe in a god who answers prayer, is an intensely personal decision protected under our First Amendment as a matter of conscience,” they added.
Throughout the pandemic, Reeves has maintained that the church has a very important role to play in the lives of Mississippians. As many governors have restricted worship services in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Reeves declined to issue such restrictions in his state.
“Throughout this pandemic, Mississippi has never restricted religious gathering and worship,” Reeves wrote in a Facebook post last month. “God is bigger than government. The right to freely practice your faith must never be infringed.”
Mississippi is frequently listed as one of the most religious states in the Union. A 2015 Gallup survey found that the Magnolia State had the second-highest rate of weekly church attendance in the country, with 47% of residents attending religious services at least once a week. Mississippi was ranked the most religious state by Gallup 11 years in a row, as it repeatedly had the highest share of residents who identified as “very religious.”