FFRF objects to council prayers in Birmingham, Ala.

The City Council in Birmingham, Ala., shouldn't be starting public meetings with invocations, especially with sectarian prayers that invoke the name of Jesus, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said in an April 8 letter to President Roderick Royal and council members.

The Foundation complained on behalf of a resident and the Alabama Freethought Association — FFRF's Alabama chapter — who reported a state-church violation was taking place in Birmingham.

FFRF called the prayers unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive. "Calling upon council members and citizens to rise and pray, even silently, is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular city government," said Rebecca Markert, FFRF staff attorney. "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."

Government prayer is illegal and unconstitutional because it amounts to an official endorsement of religion and excludes nonbelievers from fully participating in the workings of their own government.

The Foundation noted that the Jan. 5 meeting opened with the Lord's Prayer, which is exclusively Christian. Transcripts of other invocations also showed reliance on Christian prayer.

"The council compounds the violation when a majority of prayers are to Jesus or a majority of the officiants are Christian or Christian clergy, as is happening in Birmingham," Markert said.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor urged the city to dispense with all prayers and concentrate on city matters. "The tone that officials should set is one that respects and reveres the secular and entirely godless U.S. Constitution, which city officials took an oath to uphold, and whose only references to religion are exclusionary."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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