FFRF warns city about limiting prayer to Christians

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter Sept. 17 to the Coolidge (Ariz.) City Council warning it not to adopt an invocation policy that excludes non-Christians.

The council moved closer to adopting the exclusionary policy after a 4-2 vote Sept. 14 that changed the current policy. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s letter to Mayor Jon Thompson explained: “If the council insists on continuing to host prayers at public meetings, it must not discriminate against any person wishing to give a prayer.” Seidel continued, “Members of minority religions and even the nonreligious and must be permitted to deliver invocations.”

The letter also points out that last year the U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway upheld prayers at city council meetings on the understanding that the town “at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver.”

During the debate over the vote, Councilman Gary Lewis said that if any non-Christian were to give a prayer, “I wouldn’t sit here and listen to it, I would walk away.”

Seidel chastised Lewis, noting that “this type of intolerance is not only despicable in a government official, but also patently unconstitutional when codified in city laws and policy.”

FFRF has asked the council to do away with its prayers altogether and, if not, to open those prayers up to all citizens. FFRF recently filed lawsuits against the Chino Valley School Board in California and Brevard County in Florida for their invocation practices.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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