Foundation Calls Out Detroit Council on Prayer

Public boards may not legally "pray in Jesus' name," even ones governing municipalities in dire economic straits like Detroit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has written a letter on behalf of a Detroit-area complainant to City Council President Charles Pugh and the council objecting to sectarian prayers opening council meetings.

The Foundation is a state-church watchdog with 14,600 members nationwide and more than 400 in Michigan.

Rebecca Markert, FFRF staff attorney, said a review of recent Detroit council invocations online clearly shows "these prayers are rarely, if ever, nondenominational. The invocations in recent months contained specific references to Jesus Christ, and several prayers ended with 'in Jesus' name."

Courts have consistently ruled that some government-sponsored prayers are constitutionally permissible only when they are "nonsectarian, nondenominational, are not directed at citizens and do not invoke a particular deity or faith," Markert said.

"The prayerful practice at City Council meetings runs afoul of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it impermissibly advances Christianity," Markert said. "Additionally, these Christian prayers inappropriately alienate non-Christian and nonbelievers in Detroit."

During the prayers, attendees at council meetings are asked to stand and at the conclusion say "Amen." Some prayers reference biblical text. "The rights of citizens to participate in government meetings should not be predicated upon being subjected to Christian-based prayers," Markert said.

The Foundation asked the council to stop praying before meetings, or at the very least, to ensure that invocations comply with judicial dictates that they be nonsectarian.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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