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WINNING! FFRF secures court victory against City Council's recitations of the Lord's Prayer

Parkersburg WV Lawsuit

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and two local members filed suit on July 31, 2018, against the City of Parkersburg, W.Va., in a challenge to the City Council’s practice of reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” at each meeting.

Parkersburg residents Eric Engle and Daryl Cobranchi asserted that their ability to participate in city meetings was negatively impacted by the prayers. Council members and the majority of meeting attendees recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison at the beginning of the bi-monthly council meetings. At least one member of the City Council was openly hostile to people who did not participate in the prayer.

In April 2020, FFRF filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to rule the practice unconstitutional, noting the practice defies well-established law barring legislators from reciting prayers from exclusively one faith in local government meetings. 

On May 17, 2022, Judge John. T. Copenhaver, Jr. released a decision in FFRF's favor. The opinion declared the practice unconstitutional and concluded that “[t]he City Council wrapped itself in a single faith.” He permanently enjoined the city of Parkersburg from continuing its practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer at each city council meeting. The decision also awarded each plaintiff nominal damages and allowed the plaintiffs to seek attorneys fees.

The case (No. 2:18-cv-01198) was before Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. 

Legal representation was provided by outside counsel Marcus B. Schneider, local counsel Kristina Thomas Whiteaker, and by FFRF Attorneys Patrick C. Elliott and Christopher Line.