The Freedom From Religion Foundation is challenging Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s use of state resources to promote a prayer breakfast March 13 at the Frankfort Convention Center.
In a March 3 letter to the Democratic governor, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted that a press release about the so-called “nondenominational” event “leads one to believe that the government is the sponsor of the breakfast and not a private individual or organization.”
The release also includes a prayer breakfast link on the governor’s portion of kentucky.gov. The governor’s home page includes a tab at the top promoting the breakfast.
Markert added, “While elected officials may of course attend private functions on their own time in their personal capacity, it is a misuse of office for the governor or his staff to promote, organize or cosponsor activities such as prayer breakfasts or to lend the governor’s name to a “Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.”
FFRF, a national state-church watchdog with about 20,000 members nationwide and 168 in Kentucky, last contacted Beshear in 2012 about his sponsorship of annual prayer breakfasts.
“By sponsoring or co-sponsoring a Prayer Breakfast, which calls Kentucky citizens to prayer, you abrogate your duty to remain neutral,” Markert wrote. “The event sends a message that the governor of Kentucky prefers and endorses religion over nonreligion and more specifically, the Christian faith. Moreover, these actions exclude and offend a significant portion of the population, which is non-Christian or nonreligious.”
Using recent polling data, FFRF estimates about 400,000 Kentuckians are nonreligious.
FFRF has good reason to believe that Beshear sent prayer breakfast invitations, which included the official state seal, to the bulk of state employees from his state email address, an apparent violation of the Internet and Electronic Mail Acceptable Use Policy, which states, “Internet and E-mail resources, services and accounts are the property of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. These resources are to be used for state business purposes in serving the interests of state government.”
Markert added, “We urge you to cancel this event immediately and to remove anything indicating official government sponsorship from the website, reservation forms, media packets, décor, etc. . . . If you wish to be a part of this event you may do so only in your capacity as a citizen, not as governor. In addition, FFRF filed an open records request for financial records for prayer breakfasts from 2011-14, copies of any correspondence from state employees related to the four events and copies of invitations or other correspondence to and from breakfast speakers.
This year’s scheduled keynoter is Jacob Tamme, tight end for the National Football League’s Denver Broncos and University of Kentucky graduate. “Off the field, Jacob is outspoken about the important role his faith plays in his life,” the governor’s website says.