FFRF sent a letter of complaint Nov. 13 in advance of a Mayorâ€™s Prayer Breakfast to Mayor J. Michael Houston in Springfield, Ill., over illegal city involvement. FFRF, a national nonprofit with over 19,000 members, has 675 members in Illinois.
â€śOur complainant informs us that this religious event is promoted on the official website for the city of Springfield,â€ť wrote Rebecca Markert, senior staff attorney. The Web page lists the main telephone number for the Springfield Department of Community Relations, a city office, as the contact number for the event.
â€ś[I]t is grossly illegal and inappropriate for the city to be hosting, organizing, supporting or otherwise promoting a patently religious event, such as a prayer breakfast,â€ť Markert added. â€śThis practice, which has been recurring for the last 17 years, certainly has the effect of government endorsement of religion.â€ť
FFRF cited legal precedent barring direct government involvement in such events. â€śThe Department of Community Relations is inappropriately handling ticket sales for this religious event. It is of no consequence that the breakfast will take place on private property.â€ť
It also appears that Houston, a retired banker, helped to sponsor and attended the event in his official mayoral capacity.
â€śWe ask that you take immediate steps to remedy the serious violations of the Establishment Clause that the cityâ€™s involvement in the prayer breakfast presents,â€ť wrote Markert. She sent a separate letter containing an open records request on the cityâ€™s involvement.