Commissioners Steven Acquafresca, Craig Meis and Janet Rowland
Mesa County Board of Commissioners
PO Box 20000
Grand Junction CO 81502
Dear Mesa County Board of Commissioners:
Our national organization, which works to keep state and church separate, has been contacted by taxpayers and residents of Grand Junction over the Mesa County prayer dispute. Enclosed is Foundation counsel Rebecca Kratz’ thorough exposition detailing how such prayers violate the law. I would like to add a more personal response:
Prayers are unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive. Calling upon Board members and citizens to rise and pray (even silently) is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular county government. Town 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. The city is lending its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement that excludes the 14% of your population that is nonreligious (Religious Identification Survey 2001). In choosing Christian prayer, the Board compounds the violation by endorsing a particular religion and particular holy book.
Citizens of all religions or no religion are compelled to come before you on civic, secular matters: variances, sewers, building permits, restaurant licenses, sidewalk repair, etc. They should not be subjected to a religious show or test, or be expected to demonstrate religious obeisance at a city function. (We fail to see why divine guidance is needed over such earthly matters, anyway.)
Christians who know their bible are familiar with the biblical injunction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, condemning as hypocrisy public prayer. “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matt. 6:5-13). Observing a strict separation of church and state offends nobody, and honors not only the First Amendment, but the very tenets being professed during Board prayers.
On behalf of our Grand Junction membership and our secular constitution, we urge the Mesa County Board to drop its divisive prayers and concentrate on Mesa County matters.
Annie Laurie Gaylor
Enclosed: Letter from FFRF Counsel Rebecca Kratz to Mesa County Commissioners