Senior center halts employee-led prayer (September 3, 2014)

Employees at a senior center in New Mexico will not lead prayers before federally-funded meals.

FFRF was informed that staff recited a prayer before meals at the Eagle Nest Senior Center, and that participates were asked to join hands. The prayers were sectarian and began with phrases like, “Our Lord Jesus.” Since the center receives at least some public money it must adhere to federal laws, which unequivocally prohibit religious activities.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on August 21:

“[T]he Center cannot engage ‘in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction or proselytization.’ Prayer is an inherently and quintessentially religious activity. Public prayer is both ‘religious worship’ and proselytizing by peer pressure and repetition.”

Seidel added that those who wish to pray remain perfectly free to do so, however the Center and its employees cannot lead others in prayer or encourage them to pray.

On Sept. 3, the Center informed FFRF, “to the extent that the prayers are conducted by Village employees or have an appearance of being Village sponsored, the Village will take action necessary to ensure that this does not continue to occur.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation