I met local attorney Peter Martin at a First Amendment meeting during “Occupy,” when he mentioned that he was concerned about the prayers before our city council in Eureka, Calif. He said he would work on the issue but needed a plaintiff. Of course, I volunteered and promptly forgot all about it.
Peter filed the complaint/lawsuit on Jan. 25. The lawsuit simply asks the council to stop having an invocation, sectarian or not, before meetings, and for Mayor Frank Jager to stop holding “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts.” He held one last year and had another scheduled for Feb. 7.
The second prayer breakfast was held, although this year (likely spurred by the lawsuit), a rental fee of $700 was charged for use of the city-owned building. Last year, space was provided for free.
The issue made the front page of the local paper Jan. 31. The council did not make a decision on how to proceed at its Feb. 5 meeting. At this time, it looks like Mayor Jager wants to contest the lawsuit, but the decision will be made by the council and the city manager. Fighting it will cost the city a lot, and I really hope they will just drop the invocation.
There has not been an invocation at the last few meetings, so just stopping prayer should not be a big step. Under a former mayor, and with threats from the ACLU, there were no invocations at council meetings for a couple of years. This just started under Mayor Jager and a new city attorney.
There have been many letters to the editor, some supporting the lawsuit and me personally (as I am well-known in our small town} and some from the “usual suspects” who write about the wonders of prayer. Most have been quite civil. I’m very proud of our community, as I have had not one nasty phone call, and my number is right there in the phone book.
[Editor’s note: The Jan. 28 North Coast Journal quoted the mayor as saying, “Peter Martin, he’s a good buddy of mine. We’ll invite him to the prayer breakfast. And if he doesn’t come, we’ll pray for him.”]