FFRF Gets Tough over Prayer at Public Senior Centers

While prayer imposed on a captive audience during lunch at publicly-funded senior centers is illegal, it has been increasingly difficult for the Freedom From Religion Foundation to enforce the law in recent years.

Thanks to the research of the Foundation’s summer legal intern, Sarah Braasch, a second-year law student, the Foundation has placed on its website the precise stipulations in the Code of Federal Regulations which prohibit such religious activities.

Any program funded with a Social Services Block Grant via Title XX of the Social Security Act or receiving Older Americans Act grants must abide by the prohibition on religious activities.

The Code of Federal Regulations additionally proscribes any discrimination on the basis of religious belief.

In June, the Foundation sent a firm invocation of the law on behalf of an elderly member receiving the run-around about a persistent prayer violation at the Verde Valley Senior Center in Arizona. In response, the Northern Arizona Council of Governments sent a letter not just to the Verde Valley center but to other area senior centers telling them they will lose funding if they continue such violations (see letter at right).

“Our member had attempted to reason with staff, to no avail. When informed it would lose funding, the center dropped prayer. We thank Sarah Braasch for her superb research,” said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Senior center staff and volunteers should not be broadcasting, hosting or reciting a verbal prayer, asking other diners to volunteer for prayer, making diners rise and stand for prayer, or playing religious music as a prelude to meals.

Freedom From Religion Foundation