The Freedom From Religion Foundation has formally urged the Brown County Board to cease "unnecessary" and "inappropriate" prayer before government meetings.
County Board meetings currently open with an overtly Christian prayer that often includes specific references to "Jesus."
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert called attention to the constitutional violation in a Feb. 6 letter to Board Chairman Guy Zima: "The prayers currently invoked at Board meetings impermissibly advance Christianity and lead a reasonable observer to believe that the Board is endorsing not only religion over non-religion, but also Christianity over other faiths. This practice inappropriately alienates non-Christians and non-believers. Their efforts to participate in public meetings are adversely affected by these types of prayers, which turn non-believers and non-Christians into political outsiders of their own community and government."
The Board met last night for its weekly session. The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that Chairwoman Mary Scray opened the meeting with "dear Lord" and ended with "in the Lord, our savior's name." She also took it upon herself to bless the reporters and warn them against stirring up any "controversy."
Scray claimed that "85 percent of the population 'was fine with' invoking the Lord's name or Jesus' name."
This is not the first time FFRF has taken action over state/church violations in the Green Bay area. In 2009, FFRF successfully settled a two-year-old legal battle, with the City agreeing not to put back up a nativity scene above the entrance to City Hall every December.
FFRF has also been victorious in ending prayer in neighboring governments – the County Board in Eau Claire, Wis., voted 23-4, to stop invocations prior to their meetings on May 3, 2011, the City Council of Ashland, Wis., followed suit on Jan. 10.
These unlawful prayers should end. "By hosting prayers, which inevitably show preference for Christianity, the Board is illegally and inappropriately imposing its religious beliefs on the citizens of Brown County who attend the Board’s meetings for public business," wrote Markert.
Brown County needs to hear from you! Please send a message to the Brown County Board. You may wish to send a joint email to the Chair and Vice-Chairwoman Scary objecting to prayer at government meetings. She needs to hear from those who are not "fine with" prayer and be educated about why majority does not rule in matters concerning personal conscience and governmental sponsorship of religion. (Even one clear sentence is effective: i.e., Stop praying on the public time and dime at government meetings.)
(Feel free to copy and paste the statement below)
Calling upon Board members and citizens to rise and pray (even silently) is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular county government. Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers' time. Nonbelievers and religious minorities should not be made to feel like political outsiders in their own community.
Even the New Testament Jesus warns against public prayer: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:5-6).
Chairman Guy Zima
1121 12th Ave
Green Bay WI 54304
Phone: (920) 432-8020
Fax: (920) 448-6221
Email contact form: http://www.co.brown.wi.us/departments/?department=2c960fb409b5&i=db8dd517fd14
Vice-Chair Mary Scray
1018 Coggins Court
Green Bay WI 54313
Phone: (920) 662-1362
Fax: (920) 448-6221
Email contact form: http://www.co.brown.wi.us/departments/?department=2c960fb409b5&i=92b47cc2a917
Click here to contact/"cc" the rest of the County Board members.
Please send a letter to the editor to the Green Bay Press Gazette, responding to a Feb. 15 op-ed, "Guest column: Prayer before Brown County Board meeting appropriate," by Brown County Supervisor Patrick Evans, saying: ". . . government does not grant religious freedom to believers. But the freedom to pray before a meeting and acknowledge God is completely appropriate." He also notes that if a person "does notice we pray before our meeting and decides he or she wants to work on his or her own personal relationship with God, then I think that is great."
Click here to submit your 200 word (or fewer) letter to the editor. Click here for additional guidelines.
You can also write Brown County Supervisor Evans or send him a "cc" of your letter to the editor or messages to Zima and Scray. To "cc" all supervisors click here.
Thank you for your help!