The Ashland, Wis., City Council, convened as a committee of the whole, voted 9-2 on Jan. 10 to replace prayer at meetings with a moment of silence, which was the practice before Mayor Bill Whalen took office in April 2010. Whalen has ties to the Christian ministry Intercessors for America, which promotes prayer to preserve what it calls America’s Christian heritage.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert first wrote Whalen and the council last July 14 to object to the exclusively Christian invocations. She followed up with a letter faxed to city officials Jan. 10, the day of the vote to return to silence. The full council still has to formally approve the committee of the whole decision.
“[Constituents] are concerned about the separation of church and state,” Councilor Linda Scott said Jan. 12 in the Ashland Current.
The prayers left such a bad taste in Councilor Joyce Kabasa’s mouth that she would leave council chambers until they were finished. “I don’t think religion should be a show of force.”
A Jan. 19 Current editorial called the switch to silence “good news.” The paper said although Whalen’s prayers may have started with good intent, “their evolution over time seems to have taken a different tack. . . . Councilors are right to say that doing away with governmental prayer would allow for meeting preparations without prompting controversy.”