OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt is being asked to rescind his call for a day of prayer and fasting on Thursday for those impacted by COVID-19.
In a Tuesday letter to Stitt, the Freedom from Religion Foundation said the governor should not use his office and state resources to promote his personal religious beliefs.
Meanwhile, a senior minister from Tulsa’s All Souls Unitarian Church took the governor to task for calling for prayer instead of enacting a mask mandate.
Stitt on Monday issued a proclamation asking Oklahomans of all faiths and backgrounds to join him in prayer and fasting for those impacted by COVID-19. He proclaimed Thursday as an “Oklahoma Day of Prayer and Fasting.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation asked the governor to refrain from ineffective and exclusionary proclamations and asked him to take meaningful actions.
“Using state resources and the power of your office to ask citizens to pray and fast is a misuse of your civil and secular authority,” the group’s letter said. “Instead you should be instructing Oklahomans to stay at home, engage in social distancing, wear masks and take other recommended precautions.”
Stitt has urged Oklahomans to socially distance, wash their hands and wear masks.
The letter said Stitt has failed to issue mandates on social distancing and mask wearing. The governor has said he didn’t believe a statewide mask mandate could be enforced.
“It is more than ironic that as head executive of your state you misguidedly feel you have the right in our secular nation to direct citizens to ‘unite in prayer’ over the pandemic, yet eschew directing them to follow science by taking basic secular precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
A spokeswoman for Stitt reiterated the governor’s call for state residents to join him in prayer and fasting on Thursday for those impacted by COVID-19.
“Oklahomans have always rallied around community, prayer and faith during trials and seasons of uncertainty,” said Baylee Lakey, a Stitt spokeswoman. “While an out-of-state organization works to diminish the religious viewpoints held by Oklahomans, our leaders and frontline workers continue to fight this historic pandemic and support our people.”
The Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, a senior minister at All Souls Unitarian, said he believes in the importance of prayer but also in taking action.
“America is facing the largest health crisis in living history and there is overwhelming evidence that wearing masks saves lives,” Lavanhar said in a statement provided to the Tulsa World. “I will be praying that the governor has the good sense to finally listen to the scientists and enact a mask mandate in our state.”
Lavanhar noted that Americans have a duty to protect each other’s right to life.
“By taking his position not to enact a mandate the governor is not so much standing on principle as he is standing on people’s graves ... ,” Lavanhar said. “Democratic and Republican governors across the nation have enacted masks mandates. Saving lives is a bipartisan issue.”
The minister also said that many Oklahomans currently were “fasting” because of food insecurity during the pandemic.
“The religious community is working to feed people and is praying every day,” he said. “No one is keeping people from praying and fasting right now. What we could use from our Governor are tangible actions that protect the lives of the people he serves. Let’s pray he will do more than ask us to pray.”