FFRF Asks Tampa Council to Stop Sectarian Prayers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to the mayor and City Council in Tampa, Fla., to object to the long-term practice of opening council meetings with prayers, and particularly prayers that are geared to Christians only.

“Government prayer is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in the letter. “Calling upon council members and citizens to rise and pray (even silently) is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular city government. Council members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time.”

According to a story in the St. Petersburg Times, the issue has simmered in Tampa since Sept. 10 “when the invited speaker ended his prayer with a request that the council be blessed in the ‘name of Jesus Christ.’ … That prompted council member Linda Saul-Sena, who is Jewish, to suggest that future speakers consult a brochure on how best to give a public prayer in a diverse society.”

In an interview with the paper, Tampa resident Alan Snel defended Saul-Sena. “It just reminds the council that we live in a very diverse city. If you do have the prayer, just make sure it’s inclusive, reflecting the diversity and plurality of our community.”

While the Foundation favors a prayer-free policy, Gaylor said, a moment of silence is preferable to subjecting nonbelievers and non-Christians to prayers in Jesus’ name.

“On behalf of our Tampa membership and our secular Constitution, we urge the City Council to concentrate on city matters,” she said. “The tone that should be set is one that respects and reveres the secular and entirely godless U.S. Constitution, which city officials take an oath to uphold, and whose only references to religion are exclusionary.”

The Foundation has sent 26 formal letters of complaint over government prayer in 2009 on behalf of local complainants, including six in Florida. In December, the council in North Kansas City, Mo., dropped its invocation, consisting solely of the Lord’s Prayer, at the Foundation’s request.

The Toledo City Council in Ohio adopted a policy requiring nonsectarian prayers in September as a result of the Foundation’s request. Many other governmental bodies are deliberating about their policies, Gaylor said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend