Ellen Johnson

The American Atheists organization says President Bush should stop urging prayer for Hurricane Katrina victims because it violates the Constitution.

Ellen Johnson, president of the group said Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Bush “should not be violating the Constitution by telling people to pray for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It’s unconstitutional for government officials to be promoting religion; and besides, judging from the speed of some relief efforts, officials should be busy working instead of preaching.”

In urging her own flock to support disaster relief efforts, Johnson said: “Contrary to some, charity and mutual aid are not the monopoly of religious organizations.”

While some government officials are calling for prayer and trying to focus public attention on the work done by some religious groups, America’s diverse community of nonbelievers – Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and others – are joining the effort to support relief operations in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast.

Johnson also expressed alarm about religious activities behind some relief efforts.

“We’re getting reports of how some religion-based ‘aid’ groups are trying to fly evangelists into the stricken areas and how U.S. Army Chaplains are carrying Bibles – not food or water – to ‘comfort’ people at the New Orleans Superdome,” she said. “People need material aid, medical care and economic support – not prayers and preaching.”

Dave Silverman, communications director for American Atheists, went even further – blaming God for taking thousands of lives both in the Asian tsunami lat year and again in the Gulf Coast.

“It appears that despite all of the outbursts of public religiosity and prayer, ‘God’ was once again asleep at the wheel,” he said. “Only human beings can deal with the calamities of the natural world. God doesn’t seem to be much help when it comes to rushing food, water, or antibiotics when people are suffering.”

Johnson said her group is trying to encourage atheists to contribute money to relief organizations that do not proselytize as part of their rescue efforts.

Those wishing to contribute to hurricane relief efforts can donate to the Salvation Army online or by calling 1-800-725-2769. Red Cross donations can be made
online or by calling 1-800-435-7669.

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