Petition to Create Billy Graham National Holiday

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A petition is taking off online. At the time this article was published, more than 84,000 people say they’d support a national holiday to honor the Reverend Billy Graham. The petition, started by a North Carolina man named Kyle Siler, who writes in part: “help us with our cause of setting a national holiday to remember this great man.”

WCCB Charlotte’s Morgan Fogarty tracked down 41-year-old Siler. Siler told her he was inspired, in part, by his late grandfather, also a preacher, who admired Billy Graham. Siler talked with WCCB on the phone Monday about the petition, and the push back.

He says, “Dr. King had a holiday. He did a lot for our country, and you know, it’s fitting that he has a holiday, And I agree. There’s some say that he does not deserve it. There’s gonna be people that say Mr. Graham does not deserve a holiday, but you know, he’s America’s preacher. (He) spoke to 215 million people. He’s touched a lot of people and done a lot for the country.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation calls a Graham holiday “wildly inappropriate” and argues Dr. King had a religious and secular impact.

“Graham has been on the wrong side of history on many of the important issues of the day, including opposing gay marriage most recently. He’s unworthy of the honor that he’s already been given and he’s certainly unworthy of a holiday,” says Andrew Seidel, a Constitutional attorney and Director of Strategic Response for the Foundation.

WCCB asked Barbara Perry, the Presidential Studies Director at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, about the idea of a Graham holiday. She replied in an email: “As a Christian, I always admired the late Rev. Billy Graham’s gift for preaching. I particularly enjoyed seeing him on the Larry King Show, when he spoke more informally about his faith. As a scholar of the presidency, I was intrigued by his friendships and associations with U.S. Presidents. As a student of the Constitution, I am a firm believer in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which, via the Supreme Court’s interpretation, placed a ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ while allowing for maximum freedom for individuals to exercise their religious beliefs. It is this balance between free exercise of religion, and separating government from it, that has preserved our union from the kinds of religious divisions and wars so evident throughout history in the Middle East, the Balkans, Ireland, India, and the Far East. To designate a national holiday for a preacher known almost solely for his religiosity, rather than his civic contributions (as in the case of Dr.King), would set an unfortunate precedent. It would be particularly ironic given that Rev. Graham represented the Baptist faith, known, until recently, as among the staunchest supporters of a high, impregnable wall between religion and government.”

Equality NC, which says it is North Carolina’s largest and oldest organization working for LGBTQ equality, sent this statement to WCCB: “While we don’t have a formal position on the matter, we believe it’s important to realize that Rev. Graham’s legacy means different things to different people. While he may have been one of Charlotte’s favorite sons, and done many good things for many people – we think it’s also important to consider Rev. Graham’s more controversial stances (especially those that were anti-LGBTQ), conflictual relationships with civil rights leaders, and denigration of other faiths. Our country has a terrible history of celebrating men who have done many good and bad things while trying to sweep their less than admirable behavior away as if it didn’t also happen.”

Siler created the petition a week ago. He thinks he’ll get 100,000 signatures , and then the attention of The White House. He says he’s also contacted several North Carolina lawmakers.