FFRF urges end to Texas county prayer

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Texas county to end once and for all the practice of opening its meetings with a prayer.

In July, FFRF contacted the Somervell County Commissioner's Court, the county's Board of Commissioners, regarding a newly instituted policy of inviting members of the public to deliver invocations, which had replaced a tradition of a commissioner opening each session with a Christian prayer. Both community members who delivered invocations under this new policy were Christian religious leaders who engaged in highly sectarian, Christian prayer. In an effort to add diversity to the proceedings, Deb Harper, a local atheist, made several requests to give a secular "invocation." County Judge Danny Chambers remarked at a July 11 commissioner's court meeting that "he didn't want atheists to do the prayer because he didn't want the court mocked." He also told Harper he doubted an atheist could deliver an invocation "since you don't believe in God."

FFRF had urged the county either to be inclusive or to end the practice of invocations at its meetings.

"Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary and divisive," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Somervell County Attorney Andrew Lucas. "The best solution is to discontinue invocations altogether." 

Rather than take FFRF's advice, the county reverted to the practice of opening sessions with a Christian prayer by county commissioners. At the start of the Aug. 8 meeting, Judge Chambers asked Commissioner Larry Hulsey "to lead us in prayer." Hulsey then delivered a prayer that ended: "in Jesus' name."

FFRF took issue with the reintroduction of prayer in a second letter to the Commissioner's Court in which is asserted that this was done in response to Harper's request to deliver an atheist invocation.

"Our nation is founded on a godless Constitution, whose only references to religion are exclusionary," Grover reminds Lucas. "The framers of our Constitution did not find it necessary to pray during the four-month constitutional convention. We fail to see why it is necessary, then, for the Somervell County Commissioner's Court to pray over liquor licenses, sewers, or variances." 

Commissioner-led prayers not only offend nonbelievers and non-Christians but also many Christians, since Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount condemned public prayer as hypocrisy.

FFRF suggests completely dropping prayer or replacing it with a moment of silence.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with almost 24,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including nearly 1,000 in Texas.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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