The Freedom From Religion Foundation is renewing its request that Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver "cease all organization of the monthly Mayor's Prayer Breakfasts."
FFRF first wrote to Copenhaver about these illegal, city-sanctioned prayer breakfasts in June. Yesterday, the group sent a second letter of complaint to city general counsel Andrew Mackenzie.
In response to FFRF's June letter, Copenhaver told a local news channel, "we are not violating any laws so we will continue to move forward." He added, "Being mayor is what I do. My faith is who I am, and I feel very strong about that."
An open records request revealed that Karyn Nixon, executive assistant to the mayor, is primarily responsible for coordinating the event, which includes selecting the churches and sending out all the invitations. Nixon also puts together an agenda for the event, instructing pastors that scriptural references be included. The agenda specifically includes scripture readings, an opening prayer and remarks by the hosting pastor.
"Ms. Nixon utilizes her city-issued email account to organize the prayer breakfast. These emails reveal that Ms. Nixon works on the prayer breakfast during normal business hours. City phone lines are also used for participants to RSVP and to field requests for further information on the event," wrote FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a July 17 letter.
Aside from one breakfast in 2009 which was held at a Jewish synagogue, all other events have been scheduled exclusively at Christian churches or organizations and almost always include a Christian prayer.
Markert's thorough four-page letter lays out the law, demonstrating why the city organization of the monthly devotionals violates the First Amendment.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor called the city's participation in the prayer breakfasts "grossly illegal and inappropriate." She added that the continued practice "certainly has the effect of government endorsement of religion."
Gaylor pointed out that the "patently religious" event alienates nonbelievers in Augusta by turning them into political outsiders.
Please email and/or phone Copenhaver. Tell him that his office should stop organizing the blatantly Christian events. The city's participation in the prayer breakfasts is not only illegal and unnecessary, but is offensive to local freethinkers. FFRF believes the prayer breakfasts should not be called "Mayor's Prayer Breakfasts," but be clearly identified as privately organized and that the mayor should attend only in his private capacity.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver
530 Greene St.
Augusta, GA 30901
Phone: (706) 821-1831
Fax: (706) 821-1835
You may also choose to write to your local paper. The religious right has been able to sneak in a few letters to the editor, so let's give them a run for their money. Feel free to chime in on current news stories, offering your secular point of view.
The Augusta Chronicle
725 Broad Street
Augusta, GA 30901
Click here to submit your letter
Thank you for your help!