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When will Congress invite an atheist to address joint session?

Ticket give-away underlines state/church entanglement

When can we expect Speaker of the House John Boehner to invite a prominent atheist to give a joint address before Congress?

Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Roman Catholics, asking them to withdraw their unprecedented invitation to the head of their own religion to address a joint session of Congress. We’ve just written Boehner another letter requesting that he invite Richard Dawkins (talk about a draw!) to provide some balance.

There’s probably no person in the world who gets more media hype than the pope, who commands more unearned respect, whose every utterance — not to mention head cold — rates front-page coverage. Why does the pope deserve the ear of our members of Congress, men and women who took an oath to uphold our secular Constitution?

FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker Photo by Brent Nicastro

The accepted invitation is creating a cascading series of other state/church entanglements. In Congress, it’s creating a cozy opportunity for outright pandering to Catholic constituents. A decision was made (apparently by Boehner) to let each member of Congress invite one guest to attend the address. According to the Miami Herald, representatives were then given an additional 52 tickets (and senators 200) for outdoor venues.

Naturally, many elected officials are choosing to give their tickets to Catholic constituents or officials. Sen. Joni Ernest, R-Iowa, gave her ticket to Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines.

“We reached out to local religious leaders and members from our community who have been calling or emailing,” said a spokeswoman Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. Slaughter gave her guest ticket to Bishop Matthew Clark, retired bishop of Rochester.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., gave her ticket, she said, to the first person to ask, a young staffer in her D.C. office who “is a proud graduate of Christopher Columbus High School in my district and is a devout Catholic.” She called the ticket “cherished and much sought after.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said his guest will be Elyria Catholic High School President Andrew Krakowiak. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is giving a share of his tickets to each of the Catholic high schools that serve students who live in his congressional district.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Va., reportedly gave his ticket to his sister, a nun. Even Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., gave her ticket to a nun: Sister Simone (who at least was among the social justice “Nuns on the Bus”). Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will give his ticket to another nun, Sister Margarita Brewer.

You get the picture.

Naturally, the Supreme Court, with six Catholic members, will also be in attendance. This is the same court that will decide whether to take a number of cases of interest to the ceaselessly lobbying Catholic Church, such as challenges of the contraceptive mandate, the cut-off of abortions at 20 weeks and other curtailments of Roe v. Wade by state legislators, etc.

Pope Francis may be a “kinder, gentler” version of Pope Benedict, but he’s made no substantive reforms to official theocratic Catholic dogma that seeks the worldwide overthrow of legal contraception, abortion, gay rights and marriage equality. It’s unseemly that the pope will be addressing Congress as calls are escalating to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s largest providers of contraceptives and basic health care to women.

Boehner and Pelosi’s invitation to the pope to address Congress is an insult. It’s an affront to all nonbelievers and all non-Catholic citizens. It’s an indignity to the thousands and thousands of survivors and victims of priestly predation, who should be the guests invited to address Congress instead of the pope.

It’s a slap in the face to women, who deserve equality and the right to make their own decisions about contraception and birth control without clergy interference.

It’s a colossal putdown to gay Americans, who are told by the pope’s church that the expression of their sexuality is a sin, and that they should be denied the right to love and marry. Pelosi of all people should recognize that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is archenemy No. 1 of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, behind dozens of lawsuits challenging the law.

Most of all, the invitation is, of course, a slur on our secular Constitution.

It’s also shocking that the pope will canonize the controversial Father Junipero Serra shortly after his address to Congress. (At least this event, conferring sainthood on Serra, will take place privately.) Serra inaugurated the mission system that enabled the brutal Spanish conquest that enslaved native Americans and decimated their population in what is now California.

Imagine the reaction if  the pope’s address had occurred during Catholic John Kennedy’s presidency, when state/church separation was taken seriously? Few then made the claim that America was a Christian nation.

The revolutionaries who created the United States of America threw out the popes and “divine rule” monarchs when they adopted our godless Constitution. Our secular government and nation needs to stop demeaning itself by genuflecting to the Roman Catholic Church.

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