FFRF contests Colorado invocations

At Peggy Littleton's first meeting as an El Paso County commissioner in Colorado Springs, Colo., she called for more prayer.

“I’d like to encourage my colleagues to have, at a minimum, prayer together every Tuesday and expand it to leaders, elected officials and citizens who would like to express their blessing over the board,” Littleton said during the Jan. 11 meeting, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

"Because Littleton’s appeal was not a policy item, informal agreement by at least three commissioners propelled it into motion," the Gazette reported. "And because the commission chair has authority over agendas, it’s a done deal."

The commission's action, approved by new Chairwoman Amy Lathen, brought a formal letter of complaint Jan. 13 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of an El Paso County resident. "Likely starting next week, every Tuesday and Thursday meeting will include prayer," the paper reported.

In FFRF's letter to the commission, Co-President Dan Barker noted that government prayer is "unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive. Calling upon commissioners and citizens to rise and pray (even silently) is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular county government," Barker said.

"Commissioners 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."

Barker added, "The county ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement that excludes the 15 percent of your population that is nonreligious (Religious Identification Survey 2008). The board compounds the violation when a majority of prayers are to Jesus or a majority of the officiants are Christian or Christian clergy (which inevitably happens). Such prayer creates acrimony, makes minorities feel like political outsiders in their own community, and shows unconstitutional governmental preference not just for religion over nonreligion, but Christianity over other faiths."

Commissioners, county staff and other community leaders will lead prayers if clergy isn’t available, Lathen said, who said prayer helps center her. "I account to God first. I can’t do this by myself; it’s a big job we’ve got. . . . We have the invocation, then the pledge. God, then country.”

Barker reminded the commission that "citizens of all religions or no religion are compelled to come before you on civic, secular matters: variances, sewers, building permits, restaurant licenses, sidewalk repair, etc. They should not be subjected to a religious show or test, or be expected to demonstrate religious obeisance at a county function. We fail to see why divine guidance is needed over such earthly matters anyway."

He urged setting a tone that "respects and reveres the secular and entirely godless U.S. Constitution, which Commissioners take an oath to uphold, and whose only references to religion are exclusionary."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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