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No more pre-meal prayers at N.C. senior center (March 2024)

A North Carolina senior center has replaced its lunchtime prayer with a moment of silence after FFRF contacted it about its unconstitutional practice. A community member informed the state/church watchdog that a Currituck County Senior Center employee was leading an explicitly Christian prayer before every lunch served at the public-supported center. The seniors were reportedly not allowed to eat lunch until an employee finished blessing the food. The center’s lunchtime prayer practice made FFRF’s complainant feel pressured to participate in prayer. Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding to engage in religious activities at government-sponsored functions, FFRF informed the senior center. “The Code of Federal Regulations is explicit and unequivocal in its prohibition on religious activities as part of any program funded through the Department of Health and Human Services,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Currituck County Aging/Senior Services Director Stacy Joseph. “Requiring seniors to observe and participate in a coercive prayer practice at government-subsidized activities places your agency in direct violation of the federal mandate.” Currituck County immediately modified its lunch practice in response to FFRF’s objection (after disputing some of the details). “Even though the Senior Center is not condoning an unconstitutional prayer practice alleged in your letter, there will be an immediate shift from a voluntary prayer to a moment of silence prior to lunch,” the county attorney wrote back.