Americans United Plans Oklahoma City Event To 'let Freedom Ring' On National Day Of Prayer

Inclusive Event Celebrates Freedom Of Conscience, Welcomes All Faiths And Philosophical Traditions

For too long, the National Day of Prayer has been held captive by the Religious Right. This year, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is planning a rescue.

"Let Freedom Ring: A Celebration of Freedom of Conscience," an event sponsored by the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United, will be open to Americans of all faiths - as well as those who don't pray.

"America is a nation with rich diversity, and we want to celebrate that fact," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, who will be in Oklahoma City to speak at the event. "The National Day of Prayer has become an excuse for the Religious Right to practice exclusion and peddle bad history. We want to offer an alternative."

The Oklahoma event, which is being cosponsored by Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma and the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, will take place on the South Steps of the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on May 5 at 11 a.m.

AU's Lynn is a United Church of Christ minister. Speakers from the Jewish, Islamic, Pagan and non-theistic communities will also participate.

By act of Congress, the National Day of Prayer takes place the first Thursday in May. Many events are coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private group run by Shirley Dobson, wife of radio broadcaster and Religious Right kingpin James C. Dobson.

The Task Force excludes certain religious groups from its events and has turned many of them into highly politicized fundamentalist rallies. In years past, it has advised that non-Christians not be allowed to speak at local events, and this year the Task Force mandates that participation be limited to "Judeo-Christian" groups.

But Americans United charges that Task Force events are by default saturated with fundamentalist Christianity. It notes that the Task Force insists that groups taking part agree with the Lausanne Covenant, a 1974 plan for world Christian evangelism spearheaded by Billy Graham. The Covenant insists that the Bible is inerrant and states that Jesus Christ is "the only mediator between God and people. There is no other name by which we must be saved."

The Task Force's website makes it clear that its events are for certain Christians only, saying, "If peoples of other faiths wish to celebrate in their own tradition, they are welcome to do so, but we must be true to those who have supported this effort and volunteered their time to promote it."

Said AU's Lynn, "The Dobsons are essentially telling people of other faith traditions that they are not welcome and to take a hike. I want all of them to know they should hike on over to our event, where they will be welcomed and encouraged to take part."

Continued Lynn, "Americans United's event is about inclusion, not exclusion. It's a different celebration that honors the Constitution and celebrates our diversity."

Lynn said Americans United hopes to export the Oklahoma City model to other communities.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.