Jacksonville's “Day of Faith”

On August 12th, 2006, the city of Jacksonville conducted and financed an anti-violence rally in the Jacksonville Veterans' Memorial Arena named “Day of Faith: Arming Our Prayer Warriors” which featured several Christian ministers and choirs, one Jewish leader and one Muslim leader. Although legal action was taken to stop the event before it happened because of church-state separation issues, the challenges were rejected and the event proceeded as planned. Last Friday, on January 19th, 2007, however, the city agreed to pay $5,000 for lawyer fees in a settlement with American Atheists, which was suing the city to return the $101,000 it spent on the event to the taxpayers of Jacksonville, and to issue a new directive to avoid such violations in the future. As an out-of-court settlement, it doesn't set legal precedent but it remains a victory for church-state separation in the Bible Belt. You can read more about the event and lawsuit in this Associated Press article which appeared in today's edition of the Florida-Times Union.

My reaction to this news is somewhat mixed. I am generally rather pleased that this violation of church-state separation was acknowledged and partially rectified, but I am also slightly concerned about the image of atheists as detractors from a program intended to fight violence, an undoubtedly admirable cause. This is a lamentable yet necessary evil, however, in the fight to preserve secularism in government, especially with such a large sum of money involved.

In addition to the legal issues, I also object to making the rally religious on pragmatic grounds. It essentially excluded not only non-believers, but those who don't take religion seriously and even those who simply don't want to mix faith with civic action. It's difficult to measure the effect of a large gathering of people focusing on one issue, but I doubt few would say that the rally would have been less effective if more people had attended.

As a final note, it seems ironic that an anti-violence rally would refer to its participants as “prayer warriors.”


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