FFRF Again Asks Wis. Assembly to Stop Unlawful Prayers

Will Third Time Be the Charm?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog, sent a letter yesterday to Rep. Mike Sheridan, speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, to ask the Assembly to stop opening sessions with illegal prayers.

It’s the third such request since June 2008. Earlier requests, to Sheridan and to Rep. Mike Huebsch, the previous speaker, have not received the courtesy of a response, nor have the Foundation’s phone calls been returned.

“It is troubling that a year after our initial letter to the Assembly about this unlawful practice, sectarian Christian prayers continue to open sessions,” wrote Foundation attorney Rebecca Kratz in today’s letter to Sheridan. The Foundation reviewed the invocations (which are posted online at Wisconsin Eye) from January-June 2009 and found six of the 15 prayers ended “in Jesus’ name” or some variation thereof. Two prayers quoted from the bible and four made other references to Jesus Christ.

For example, on April 23, Rev. Lance Schneider of St. Dennis Catholic Church in Madison ended his invocation with: “Bless us dear God, as you bless John, and grant unto all of us the peace of your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Six days later, Rep. Dan LeMahieu, an Assembly member, gave the invocation, which included: “We just thank you for the reminder we had several weeks ago of the Easter season, of the death of your son and his rebirth, his resurrection.”

“These prayers run afoul of the First Amendment because they impermissibly advance Christianity and lead a reasonable observer to believe that the Assembly is endorsing not only religion over nonreligion but also Christianity over other faiths,” Kratz wrote. “Even the Wisconsin State Senate has taken an enlightened path and adopted a policy that requires opening prayers to be nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing.”

In her February 2009 letter to Sheridan, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor noted 15 of the 16 opening prayers from May 2007 to May 2008 were explicitly Christian and one had a “pseudo-exorcism” against the “Evil One.”

The latest request asks for the Assembly to follow the Senate and adopt a policy of nonsectarian prayer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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