The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint Nov. 6 to Mayor J. Michael Houston in Springfield, Ill., about illegal city involvement with the Nov. 13 Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.
FFRF, a national nonprofit with over 19,000 members, including 675 in Illinois, works to protect the constitutional principle of state-church separation.
"Our complainant informs us that this religious event is promoted on the official website for the city of Springfield," wrote Rebecca Markert, FFRF senior staff attorney. "The Web page, which is enclosed for your information, also lists the number 789-2270 as the number for further information about ticket sales. We understand that is the main telephone number for the Springfield Department of Community Relations, a city office."
"[I]t is grossly illegal and inappropriate for the city to be hosting, organizing, supporting or otherwise promoting a patently religious event, such as a prayer breakfast," Markert added. "This practice, which has been recurring for the last 17 years, certainly has the effect of government endorsement of religion."
FFRF cited legal precedent barring direct government involvement in such events. "The Department of Community Relations is inappropriately handling ticket sales for this religious event. It is of no consequence that the breakfast will take place on private property."
It also appears that Houston, a retired banker, is helping to sponsor and is attending the event in his official mayoral capacity.
"We ask that you take immediate steps to remedy the serious violations of the Establishment Clause that the city’s involvement in the prayer breakfast presents," wrote Markert, who sent a separate letter containing an open records request for the following:
1. Any financial records — purchase orders, invoices, receipts or other similar documents — pertaining to expenses and costs for the event.
2. Copies of any correspondence from city employees to and from Houston and any other city employee involved in coordinating the event.
3. Copies of invitations or other correspondence to and from any 2012 event speakers or hosts.