The City Council of Onalaska, Wis. voted not to commence government prayer to open their meetings. Secular-minded community members, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, La Crosse Area Freethought Society, and others spoke up, and a majority of common council members rejected the proposal.
At the Jan. 8 Common Council meeting Onalaska Alderman Jack Pogreba proposed to begin each meeting with prayer. He finished his proposal by asking all members to bow their heads in a prayer that ended by invoking Jesus’s name.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent Onalaska common council members a letter on Jan. 11 advocating for the separation of religion and government. Elliott noted that all of Onalaska’s places of worship are Christian and that offering sectarian Christian prayers would show unconstitutional city preference for Christianity. This would exclude members of the community who are nonreligious or of another faith and need to come before the City Council. “We urge the Council to concentrate on Onalaska matters, and not waste taxpayer time with divisive, exclusionary prayers,” Elliott wrote. At a subcommittee meeting, opponents of government prayer, including two council members, vastly outnumbered proponents.
On Feb. 12, the common voted 4-2 not to start the meetings with prayer.