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Mayor of Wash. city must halt official prayer meetings, FFRF contends

A screenshot of a facebook post for the public prayer at the city hall of Puyallup. It says "Please join us on Wednesday mornings for a time of prayer for our city. Praying for a spiritual awakening in Puyallup. The gathering is held on the 5th floor of city hall and hosted by our Mayor. All are welcome!" A graphic is below of the city hall with the meeting place and time on it.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that the mayor of Puyallup stop holding weekly prayer sessions inside City Hall. 

A local Puyallup resident has informed the state/church watchdog that Mayor Dean Johnson hosts a prayer group in City Hall every Wednesday morning. The complainant is an atheist who believes in the separation between church and state — and that city resources should not be used to promote the mayor’s personal religious beliefs. 

“As a government official, you are tasked with upholding the Constitution of the United States — including the Establishment Clause,” FFRF attorney Chris Line writes to Mayor Johnson. “By holding prayer meetings at City Hall during the workday, you do the opposite.”

Government employees can worship, pray or hold religious events when acting in their personal capacities. But they are not permitted to provide prestige to their personal religion through the machinery of a government office, FFRF emphasizes. As an elected official, Johnson is charged with great responsibility and has been given significant trust by citizens in his community, including those citizens who do not share his religious viewpoint. 

Johnson serves a religiously diverse community that consists not only of Christians but also Jews, Muslims, atheists and other non-Christians, FFRF points out. When he uses his position to support his personal religious beliefs, he needlessly alienates his constituents who are part of the 37 percent of Americans that is non-Christian, including the nearly one in three Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated, by sending the message that he and his office prefer those who subscribe to Christianity. In Pierce County (where Puyallup is located), 33 percent of residents identify as “Nones.”

FFRF is asking Johnson to honor the Constitution and respect his Establishment Clause obligations by ending this government-sponsored prayer group. 

“This ostentatious religious practice has to stop now,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,700 members and two local chapters in Washington. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

If you are an FFRF member, sign into your account here and then update your email subscriptions here.

To become an FFRF member, click here. To learn more about FFRF, request information here.

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