SOUTH CAROLINA, USA — The Freedom From Religion Foundation is threatening legal action against South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, saying he violated the constitution by praying before press conferences during Hurricane Dorian.
"This is a governor abusing an office to promote his personal religion. This is Christian nationalism and it is a plague on American society," said Andrew Seidel, constitutional attorney for the foundation.
Seidel said they won’t hesitate to pursue legal action against the governor if he ever prays before a press conference again.
"We would urge the governor to get off his knees and get back to work. There’s a lot of work to be done in South Carolina that doesn’t need to be prayed over," he said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the governor’s office told NBC Charlotte:
For as long as Henry McMaster is the governor of South Carolina, and we have to prepare for these dangerous storms, there will be a chaplain saying a prayer before each of those press conferences. For every person who may get offended, countless South Carolinians likely gain strength, guidance, and comfort from these prayers.
This has been an issue in our area before.
In January, Rowan County agreed to pay $285,000 to the ACLU after losing a hotly debated five year battle over their right to lead commissioner meetings with prayer.
That ordeal led Charlotte City Council to temporarily remove prayer from their meetings, although they later added it back.
Similar cases have been debated in Cleveland and Lincoln counties, too.
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation said what Governor McMaster is doing brings the issue to a new level.
"There has never been a case where courts have upheld prayers at press conferences," Seidel said, "when the governor is communicating things that citizens absolutely need to hear like evacuation orders."
So far, the foundation has not filed an actual lawsuit, just a warning letter. But they said if it happens again, they will seriously consider moving forward with a suit.