No Currituck County (N.C.) Senior Center prayer, thanks to FFRF

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A North Carolina senior center has replaced its lunchtime prayer with a moment of silence after the Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted it about its unconstitutional prayer practice.

A concerned community member informed the state/church watchdog that a Currituck County Senior Center employee was leading an explicitly Christian prayer before every lunch served at the public-supported center. The seniors were reportedly not allowed to eat lunch until an employee finished blessing the food. The center’s lunch-time prayer practice made FFRF’s complainant feel pressured to participate in prayer.

Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding to engage in religious activities at government-sponsored functions, FFRF informed the senior center.

“The Code of Federal Regulations is explicit and unequivocal in its prohibition on religious activities as part of any program funded through the Department of Health and Human Services,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Currituck County Aging/Senior Services Director Stacy Joseph. “Requiring seniors to observe and participate in a coercive prayer practice at government-subsidized activities places your agency in direct violation of the federal mandate.”

Requiring Christian public prayer before center lunches also needlessly alienates and excludes seniors who are among the nearly 30 percent of the population that is religiously unaffiliated, as well as the additional 6 percent of Americans adhering to non-Christian faiths, FFRF added.

Currituck County immediately modified its lunch practice in response to FFRF’s objection (after disputing some of the details).

“Even though the Senior Center is not condoning an unconstitutional prayer practice alleged in your letter, there will be an immediate shift from a voluntary prayer to a moment of silence prior to lunch,” the county attorney wrote back.

FFRF appreciates the county ending prayer at senior citizen lunches.

“Religious rituals should never be a condition of receiving  such life-essential services as meals,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re glad that Currituck County realized the exclusionary nature of such practices.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in North Carolina. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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