For as far back as anyone can remember, well over a decade at least, many of us who work in downtown Richmond have taken part in the National Day of Prayer service on the grounds of the Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. It is always held at noon, as are the overwhelming majority of services nationwide, so that office workers can participate during the lunch hour. That was the case anyway, until this year. We've just learned that for the first time ever, a governor's administration has declined Day of Prayer organizers the noon hour for the service, saying that it is a time when people eat their lunch on capitol grounds.
No, really, that's what they said. Not only is that a remarkable statement in and of itself, but the part of Capitol Square used for the service — the Bell Tower — is not in the area brown baggers use for lunch as the park benches are on the main walk way through the middle of the square.
A photo earlier today shows that, despite the pleasant weather, lunch eaters in Capitol Square aren't all that numerous.
While the administration has been nice enough to offer the grounds for a service at 1:00, the decision sends the clear message that religious Virginians are going to continue to be treated as second class citizens by this administration. This should come as no surprise in the aftermath of Governor McAuliffe's vetoes of two common sense bills concerning religious liberty passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly. Surely, in only four short months, no governor in Virginia history has displayed such disdain for religious expression.
As for the administration's concern for people who eat their lunch at noon on the capitol's grounds, they certainly can do so while a relatively small group of folks gather for a Day of Prayer service. The grounds are, after all, not very small. There's not been a problem in the past, so why the sudden change? Day of Prayer organizers were told that the policy regarding the noon hour has been in place for some time but that they had been "grandfathered in" in recent years, but not anymore. We are sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of General Services to find out just when this policy was put in effect, by whom, and why.
Regardless of this administration's hostility toward faith, we will continue to fight for our religious liberty. It is foolish if it believes its childish antics are going to stop prayer.