No religious city council meetings, FFRF insists to N.C. town

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Stop converting your city council meetings into religious revivals, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a North Carolina town.

A concerned area resident has informed the state/church watchdog that the Monroe City Council regularly opens its meetings with Christian prayers. At the meeting last December, for instance, the opening prayer included a request that the “city of Monroe turn back to … God.”

This month’s City Council meeting on Feb. 13 included not only an opening Christian prayer but also a performance of “Better is One Day in Your House” by Wingate University’s gospel choir Soulful Sounds Ensemble. Following the gospel performance, Pastor Tim Cruse from Shining Light Baptist Church delivered a Christian prayer:

Let us pray together. Father, we love You tonight and thank You for your goodness, Lord. Truly, as Your word says, “I’d rather be a door keeper at the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Lord, I would pray that You would help us today. Lord, in this sitting to honor You in every way. Lord, to do what is right. Lord, to recognize that there is right and there is wrong. We pray that You would strengthen with courage and conviction and compassion all those who are purposed to do what’s right. Lord, be with our mayor and council members. I pray You bless them. Give them wisdom. Lord, we pray for Your protection and Your watch care over our city. Lord, for any evil or wicked design, Lord, that You would frustrate it.

We know that You’re able, Lord, because You love us, and You love our city, and we love our city. Lord, we love having the opportunity, dear God, to celebrate a freedom; and all the great gifts of Your goodness. I pray that You would help us now. Move us forward together as a city, for good, for Your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The Monroe City Council ought not lend its power and prestige to religion by scheduling, hosting or conducting governmental prayers and treating its meetings like Christian worship services, FFRF emphasizes.

Citizens, including Monroe’s nonreligious citizens, are often compelled to come before the City Council. Having an opening prayer excludes the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, including the nearly one in three adult Americans (28 percent) who are religiously unaffiliated. It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying) or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their City Council members clearly do.

“Observing a strict separation of church and state offends nobody, includes everybody, and honors the First Amendment,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Monroe Mayor Robert Burns. “Christians who know their bible are familiar with the biblical injunction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, condemning public prayer as hypocrisy.”

The Monroe City Council must immediately refrain from opening its meetings with prayers, which are inevitably Christian, and other religious performances because these practices are unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive, FFRF is urging. The City Council needs to concentrate on civil matters and leave religion to the private conscience of each individual.

“Religion is an unwarranted intrusion into the proceedings of a civic body that should be guided by secular concerns,” adds Gaylor. “Regular Christian prayers at the start of council meetings are alienating and divisive.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 900 members and a local 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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