Atheist groups say the late Rev. Billy Graham should not lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol because of the evangelist’s record on gay rights and the precedent it sets for government involvement with religious matters.
A letter sent Monday to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, signed by major secular organizations including the Center for Inquiry and the American Humanist Association, called the “government-sanctioned memorial” a “completely inappropriate use of our tax dollars” and “the very sort of entanglement of religion and government that our founders warned against.”
“As advocates for civil rights and religious liberty, we are concerned that lying Reverend Graham in honor would needlessly alienate non-religious people, religious minorities, and those communities whose civil rights he opposed and would set a dangerous precedent for government entanglement with religious matters,” the letter read.
The letter’s signers point out that Mr. Graham was highly critical of the gay-rights and feminist movements. They called the “Graham rule,” which holds that a man should not be alone with any woman other than his wife, a “discriminatory rule most notably followed by Vice President Mike Pence.”
President Trump and Mr. Pence were at the Capitol on Wednesday as Mr. Graham’s casket arrived. They were joined by lawmakers from both parties and members of the Graham family.
“Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart, as Franklin [Graham] will tell you, was always in America,” Mr. Trump said in remarks at the Capitol, referring to the reverend’s fourth son, who has continued his father’s ministry.
The president recalled seeing Mr. Graham at Yankee Stadium in 1957 with his parents.
“Americans came in droves to hear that great young preacher,” he said. “Fred Trump was a big fan. Fred Trump was my father.”
Three wreathes, one from each house of Congress and one from the executive branch, were laid at Mr. Graham’s casket.
In a statement on Wednesday, Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Mr. Graham “should not lie in honor.”
“Such a high government honor for someone solely for their work spreading an interpretation of one faith offends the spirit of our First Amendment’s guarantee that government will not take actions that endorse or promote religion,” the secular group said in a statement.
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