End prayers at subsidized N.M. senior center, FFRF insists


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting the unconstitutional practice of prayer at a government-funded senior citizens center in New Mexico.

A concerned member of the Grants, N.M.-based Cibola Senior Citizens Center, an institution that receives most of its support from state and federal funding, contacted FFRF to inform it that the center instructs seniors to pray before receiving meals. While the center does not directly force compliance with this practice, members of the staff actively single out those who do not comply, fostering an environment of hostility toward those individuals.

Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding from engaging in religious activities at government-sponsored functions such as senior lunches, FFRF emphasizes. The Cibola Senior Citizens Center reportedly receives much of its budget from federal, state and county funds. That’s why the center must adhere to federal regulations. This means that the center cannot engage in “inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization,” to quote the Code of Federal Regulations. Prayer is an inherently religious activity. Therefore, allowing, promoting or encouraging prayer at these government-subsidized activities places the center in direct violation of the federal mandate.

“It is inappropriate for government employees to lead others in prayer or encourage others to engage in prayer in any way,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to Cibola Senior Citizens Center Director Dorie Sandoval. “It is even more inappropriate for government employees to coerce or compel such prayer. Government employees, acting in their official capacities as public servants, cannot actively endorse, prefer, or promote religion.” 

Not only does permitting public prayer at these meals cause concern that the government is endorsing religion, it violates citizens’ rights to be free from religious proselytizing. The center’s support of public prayer during these meals ignores the rights of other seniors who may not wish to participate in the religious activities because they disagree with a particular faith publicly exercised, who may prefer to be private in their worship or who do not believe at all.

Hence, FFRF asks that Cibola Senior Citizens Center immediately discontinue the practice of prayer at government-subsidized functions.

“We have received many complaints over the years from senior citizens all over the country who sometimes stop attending such lunches altogether, missing out on the benefits due to these inappropriate practices,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “You cannot impose religion while accepting public funds.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national organization with 29,000 members and chapters nationwide, including members in New Mexico and an Albuquerque chapter. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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