FFRF asks S.C. county board to halt Christian prayers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the York County Council, S.C., to stop opening its governmental meetings with Christian prayer.

The national state/church watchdog has notified the council that its practice of hosting Christian prayer, which is led by Council members and delivered “In Jesus’ name,” and which can include urging attendees to recite the Lord’s Prayer, is “unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive.” A local resident has contacted FFRF to object to this imposition of Christianity, reporting that the council’s continuous support of one particular faith tradition made them “very uncomfortable.”

Citizens, including York County’s nonreligious citizens, are compelled to come before the council on important civic matters, to seek licenses and permits and to participate in important decisions affecting their livelihoods, property, children and quality of life. They should not be required to conform to a particular form of worship, show obeisance to a religious sentiment in which they disbelieve, or be forced to make a public showing of their nonbelief by not rising or participating in the prayer, FFRF notes.

“Local government officials should not be in the business of leading prayers themselves,” writes FFRF Attorney Chris Line to Christi Cox, chair of the York County Council. He invoked a 2017 decision by the 4th U.S. District Court of Appeals, which is controlling in South Carolina, that ruled against local governmental officials delivering, preparing and controlling opening prayers.

Line also pointed to a 2022 court victory by FFRF, in which the 4th Circuit ruled unconstitutional the practice by Parkersburg, W.Va., of opening city council meetings with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. The court held that the council ran afoul of the Establishment Clause when it “wrapped itself in a single faith.”

Observing a strict separation of church and state offends nobody, includes everybody and honors the First Amendment, points out FFRF. FFRF even cited, for good measure, the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus condemns public prayer as hypocritical. 

“Council members can pray on their own time and dime,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “They should concentrate on civil matters and leave religion to the private conscience of each individual.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, founded in 1978, is an educational nonprofit with more than 40,000 members nationwide, and more than 300 in South Carolina, that works to keep religion out of government and to educate the public about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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