FFRF urges mayor to cancel city-sponsored prayer breakfast

prayerbreakfastThe Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog with 21,500 members, including more than 300 in Indiana, is pressing Mayor Jeff Gahan of New Albany, Ind., to end the city’s extensive involvement in a long-running prayer breakfast.

New Albany’s 46th annual Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast is scheduled for this Sat., Nov. 15. The event is promoted on the city’s website as a time to “come together to celebrate the diversity within God’s family.” The city also put an ad for the prayer breakfast on citizens’ municipal utility bills, emphasizing the words “prayer” and “faith.” City Hall’s phone number is listed on both the city website and the utility insert as the number to call for more information about the prayer breakfast.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent Gahan a letter on Nov. 7 urging him to dissociate his office and the city from the prayer breakfast. “Your participation in this event, and the city’s apparent coordination of the event, pose serious constitutional separation of state and church concerns,” she wrote. “Since any reasonable city resident would logically interpret the city’s actions in this case as government endorsement of religion, the city must refrain from expending any further taxpayer dollars, using publicly funded employees, and drawing on any other publicly funded resources to promote the religious prayer breakfast.”

FFRF also sent the mayor an open records request for financial records and correspondence related to the event.

Markert directed Gahan to an injunction FFRF won against the mayor of Denver in 1993 over his promotion and endorsement of a “Day of Prayer.” The court enjoined the mayor and other city officials “acting in an official capacity from promoting, endorsing, or supporting the Day of Prayer.”

FFRF objects to officials lending their government titles to prayer events, as is the case with the Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast. “Government officials can worship, pray, and participate in religious events in their personal capacities. But they are not permitted to provide credibility or prestige to their religion by lending a government office and government title to religious events. Their office and title belong to ‘We the people,’ not the office’s temporary occupant,” wrote Markert.

“FFRF receives so many complaints about governmental prayer, because religious sponsorship by our government turns believers into insiders, and nonbelievers — or those from minority beliefs — into outsiders. The New Albany prayer breakfast entanglement is a particularly egregious example of an inappropriate union between government and religion,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF, based in Madison, Wis., is North America’s largest association of freethinkers.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend