Ohio Prayer Breakfast breaks ties with city government (April 24, 2013)

Thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the city of Columbus, Ohio, will no longer promote, finance or plan an annual prayer breakfast.
Columbus’ Mayor Michael Coleman and a city office coordinated and organized the 2012 interfaith prayer service, which took place on June 12, with a Baptist preacher as the keynote speaker.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert contacted Coleman in a June 6, 2012 letter urging him to not use city resources to plan, promote and organize future religious events. Markert also did an open records request and found that city employees were heavily involved in planning the 2012 service.

Markert pointed out the city’s website advertised the service, a city office was in charge of the service’s ticket sales and a city employee was used as the contact person for the event. She said this violated church/state separation and also alienated the non-religious members of the Columbus community.

“As the City’s highest elected official, you are charged with great responsibility and have been given significant trust by its citizens, including those citizens who may not share your religious beliefs,” she said.

In a memo from June 25, 2012, Michael Reese, the Chief of Staff of the Columbus Mayor’s Office, said while Coleman would continue to lend his name to the breakfast, no city resources would be used to organize, plan or conduct the annual service. He added that city employees would not be involved with the service unless the work they do for it is on their own time.

FFRF and a longtime FFRF member from Columbus continued to monitor the breakfast in 2013, which will take place on May 9.

Markert confirmed that instead of a city office, Coleman for Columbus, Coleman’s campaign, performed all the work for the Interfaith Prayer Service this year. Coleman for Columbus does not receive government resources.

Freedom From Religion Foundation