DES MOINES (Christian Examiner) – A Wisconsin-based atheist group has fired off an angry letter to the governor of Iowa after he issued a proclamation encouraging the citizens of his state to read the Bible.
In the proclamation, Gov. Terry Branstad asked Iowans to join together in an historic Bible reading marathon in front of all 99 county courthouses across the state between June 30 and July 3, in preparation for the national Fourth of July holiday.
Branstad said in the proclamation "all Scripture is essential to prepare us to be the people God wants us to be and to accomplish the purpose for which he created us."
He also claimed, "the Bible is recognized as the one true revelation from God, showing the way of Salvation, Truth, Life" and "regular Bible reading renews the mind of men, thus transforming the life of the individual which ultimately affects the lives of those in the family, the local community, the state, and the Nation."
The atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation, however, called the proclamation "problematic on a lot of different levels" and a violation of "Iowa's constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion."
In a letter to the governor, FFRF's staff attorney Andrew Seidel said the governor's proclamation is a "heavy-handed attempt to elevate one particular set of faith-based beliefs over every other. And you've used 'the name ... and authority of the State of Iowa' to issue it."
FFRF took exception to historical interpretations in the proclamation, such as a supposed quote from Andrew Jackson on the importance of the Bible. The atheist group claims the quote is not in any historical source and only appeared 20 years after his death. It also claimed George Washington never mentioned the name of Jesus Christ in all of his letters. Washington was declared a Christian in the proclamation.
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The letter is most savagely critical of the claim that the Bible contains the solution to all of life's ills, a statement attributed to President Ronald Reagan.
"The idea that the Bible is a panacea is nothing short of silly. The Bible contradicts important modern discoveries and ideas from evolution to heliocentricity to global climate change to the germ theory of disease. Not only that, but scientific studies show that societies with less religion show far more progress on nearly every factor of societal health or well being. Invariably the less religious countries score better," Seidel argued.
He claimed less religious countries have lower incidents of violent crime and homicide, less corruption, less intolerance toward minorities and higher education scores.
FFRF's Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said the proclamation promotes belief in God and singles out "one religion's so-called holy book" for people to read "until the Lord comes."
"Imagine the outcry if the governor signed a proclamation to encourage daily reading of the Koran – or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. Encouraging the reading of the Christian Bible is equally inappropriate," Gaylor said.
Branstad's office has not responded to FFRF's letter, perhaps because it has been too busy fielding calls and comments from angry residents to do so. Comments on the governor's Facebook page, even to topics unrelated to the proclamation, have been uniformly negative and, in many cases, vitriolic.
Branstad is told in one series of comments that the proclamation is "the very definition of Fascism. You are not a dictator, so stop acting like one."
"Terry Braindead is the biggest loser the state of Iowa has ever seen. Why don't you just go to Washington DC and spit on the Constitution?" Another comment says.
Another, from a woman who doesn't live in Iowa, says the state is in danger of becoming a "theocracy like Iran." A similar comment instructs Branstad to "go and take your theocracy and fascism to Iran, you un-American Christian extremist."
FFRF told the Des Moines Register it was considering suing the governor if he does not rescind the proclamation. The American Civil Liberties Union reportedly also claimed it was looking into the possibilty of bringing a lawsuit in federal court.