The Freedom From Religion Foundation is troubled over an Illinois city council's trend of scheduling exclusively Christian leaders to give invocations at its meetings.
During a Peoria City Council meeting to install newly elected officials last month, Monsignor Stanley Deptula of the city's Catholic Diocese and Pastor Martin Johnson each led overtly sectarian prayers. Deptula opened his address with a benediction, which he explained was written by a Catholic bishop, and made reference to a "holy spirit." Johnson's invocation concluded in the name of Jesus.
FFRF raises concern over the City Council's conspicuously Christian bias evident in its prayers. There is no record of an invocation by any non-Christian speakers in the recent past. This is just the latest in the council's history of favoring parochial religious leaders to open its meetings.
"Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive," writes FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne to Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. "The best solution is to discontinue invocations altogether."
A full 30 percent of Americans are not Christian, and nearly 25 percent of the public is not religious at all. It is ostracizing and intimidating for citizens who are of a minority religion or are nonreligious to attend a public meeting and be required to either make a display of their nonbelief or show deference to a religious sentiment they do not believe in.
"A local civil body ought not to lend its taxpayer-funded time to religion by inviting factional religious leaders to give prayers," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The City Council must either end this practice or establish a clear policy that does not discriminate against any nonreligious or minority religious citizens wishing to deliver an invocation."
This means that if the council chooses to continue its prayer practice, it must open its prayers to all attendees, including atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Wiccans or Satanists.
FFRF urges the council to demonstrate respect for the diverse scope of religious and nonreligious citizens living in Peoria by concentrating on civil matters and ending the practice of hosting prayers at meetings all together. It is in the best interest of all involved to leave religion to the private conscience of each individual.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization, with more than 29,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including 900-plus members and chapters in Illinois and a chapter, the FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter.