Atheist group skewers presidential candidates for discussing faith, prayer

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (L) and Jim Urquhart/File Photos)

MADISON, Wisconsin (Christian Examiner) – The Wisconsin-based atheist group known as the Freedom from Religion Foundation is miffed with both of the 2016 presidential candidates over their use of religious language on the campaign trail.

Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the group has claimed, are both "pandering" to religious voters to the neglect of "the growing secular vote."

Trump's courting of the evangelical vote, which he claimed Sept. 9 propelled him to victory in the primaries, is well known. Clinton, however, has largely remained silent on the subject of religion. In fact, she has criticized religious voters and suggested they needed to change their "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases."

We've long said that we don't need pious politicians who spend valuable time on their knees. We need politicians who will get off their knees and get to work. Prayer doesn't fix anything, but it does waste time and energy. And it also lets pandering public officials congratulate themselves on accomplishing something, when they are really just talking to themselves. Prayer doesn't heal the sick or rebuild cities after natural disasters.
- Freedom from Religion Foundation

On Sept. 8, however, Clinton told an audience at the National Baptist Convention – a gathering of black Baptists in Oklahoma – that America needs "a president who understands the powerful role that faith – and communities of faith – have always played in moving our country toward justice."

Clinton also said she favored having a president "who will pray with you, and for you" while pursuing social justice and walking "humbly with our God."

The atheist group staunchly disagreed with Clinton's assertion.

"We've long said that we don't need pious politicians who spend valuable time on their knees. We need politicians who will get off their knees and get to work. Prayer doesn't fix anything, but it does waste time and energy. And it also lets pandering public officials congratulate themselves on accomplishing something, when they are really just talking to themselves. Prayer doesn't heal the sick or rebuild cities after natural disasters," FFRF said in a statement.

FFRF was also critical of Trump's call to overturn the Johnson Amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. That amendment, added after Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson was opposed for re-election by several pastors and churches, established rules for political speech from the pulpit. A pastor can speak on political issues, but cannot endorse a candidate. Trump disagrees with the rule and claims pastors should be free to speak on any topic or any person.

Churches that do not follow the rule could potentially lose their tax-exempt status. That isn't likely, however, as the IRS seldom calls churches to account for political speech.

FFRF also called for an end to tax-exempt status for churches nationwide.

"Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofits are afforded a special privilege, which amounts to an indirect but 'huge' public subsidy. If an organization profits from tax-exemption, it forfeits the right to engage in political campaign intervention in exchange for this subsidy. Were unaccountable, tax-exempt churches allowed to politick, watch out! Churches and their congregations would turn into political money-laundering operations. And our secular republic, not just our elections, would be imperiled," FFRF said in its statement.

FFRF claims that 25 percent of Americans are atheists, secularists or "religious nones." That number, however, is grossly inflated because the category "religious nones" includes people who still believe in God but are not attached to an official denomination or church group.