By Rachel Christian
A national watchdog group that monitors separation of church and state violations is calling on the city of Kissimmee to remove a 40 Days of Prayer proclamation and public prayer day set to take place Aug. 21.
The group, called the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), put out a release Monday afternoon asking Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez to cancel the “unconstitutional” 40 Days of Celebration of Life, Love, and Family proclamation approved during a City Commission meeting Aug. 7.
Kissimmee was the first city in the United States to adopt the proclamation, which originated in Puerto Rico and is now observed by all 78 of the island’s municipalities as well as other countries in Latin America.
Following the proclamation presentation, Puerto Rican officials delivered two additional decrees in Spanish which were translated by an interpreter at the meeting.
The 40 days is set to begin Aug. 21, and organizers invited residents to meet from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. at 4267 Yates Road in Kissimmee to participate.
Organizers said the announcements were meant to show solidarity with Puerto Rican residents and Latin American citizens who now call Kissimmee home.
“Members of the City of Kissimmee…invite all residents to join them in this celebration by praying, doing acts of kindness, watching over the safety of neighbors and fellow citizens, volunteering and uniting to help those in need,” the proclamation stated.
But FFRF alleges that the proclamation read into record last Tuesday “alienates a substantial portion of the community and is an improper endorsement of religion.”
The city claimed the event was non-denominational, but guest speakers mentioned specific religious phrases like God Almighty, Jesus Christ and referred to Kissimmee as “a holy city” during group prayers and songs.
But in light of recent criticism, the city says the whole proclamation situation was a big misunderstanding.
Public Information Officer Melissa Zayas-Moreno said the original proclamation was modified by city staff, but that the two subsequent decrees given by recipients to the city in Spanish were not approved prior to the meeting.
“These proclamations stated that the city was decreeing 40 days of prayer.,” Zayas Moreno stated in an email Monday. “The cty has not formally accepted their proclamations, which are on file, solely as a public record.”
She went on to say that without knowledge or consent, the recipients of the city proclamation contacted news media outlets last Tuesday and gave them their proclamation instead of the city’s.
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Gsylor are still asking the mayor to cancel the upcoming “Call to Prayer” event set for Aug. 21.
Zayas-Moreno said the city is not hosting the event.