Greenville, Pennsylvania — A city council in Pennsylvania plans to defy demands from an atheist activist organization to end invocations at their monthly meetings, reports state.
Brian Shipley, the president of Greenville City Council, recently received a letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which claimed that the prayers, which are led by members of the Lakeland Ministerial Association, violate the separation of church and state. It advised that there had been a complaint from a local resident who felt uncomfortable with the invocations.
However, reporters at the Sharon Herald advise that council members aren’t budging.
“I am perfectly okay with prayer at meetings,” stated Councilman Anthony D’Alfonso. “I think it’s a long-standing tradition that should be honored.”
Councilman Ted Jones called FFRF’s complaint “pretty crazy.”
“I think it’s pretty stupid,” he told the publication. “I don’t think we should do anything.”
President Shipley noted that while the City has been accommodating the prayers “as long as anyone can remember,” no one has ever lodged a complaint. He advised that council is not going to change its practice for one unhappy individual.
FFRF contends that the prayers are unconstitutional, and therefore, must discontinue.
Greenville becomes the next city that has decided to buck the prominent atheist activist organization. As previously reported, in February, officials in Rapid City, South Dakota decided to stand their ground after receiving a letter demanding discontinuation of the its regular invocations.
“This issue has brought the entire council and nearly the entire community together,” Mayor Sam Kooiker wrote in an email to city employees. “We are going to stand and fight this nonsensical effort to remove prayer from our meetings. We aren’t backing down.”
In January, officials in Barron County, Wisconsin voted unanimously to continue with the prayers despite being threatened with a lawsuit by FFRF. Nine area pastors attended a board meeting to express their support for the invocations.
“[It is disturbing that] a certain fringe group can seek to dictate its will to a majority of people in the county by use of intimidation,” said Pastor Wayne Hall of Abundant Life Church in Cameron.
“Just because someone might feel offended doesn’t mean that a constitutional violation has taken place,” added Greg Becker, assistant pastor of Zion Lutheran in Turtle Lake.
“A good majority of us wish for you to seek divine wisdom in carrying out your responsibilities and to keep prayer on your agenda,” chimed in retired Pastor John Erickson.
There remains disagreement between atheists and people of faith over whether prayer may be permitted in government buildings. Atheist organizations like FFRF contend that the nation is secular in nature, but Christian groups note that prayers were presented every morning during the Constitutional Convention in July 1787, and that George Washington, who was known as “the man on his knees,” was characterized by his life of prayer. James Madison also called for “a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1814, a time set aside for “confessing [America’s] sins and transgressions, and of strengthening [individual] vows of repentance and amendment.”
FFRF states that is awaiting an official response from council before it deliberates its next move.
“We wait to hear back from the council and discuss what the local complainant thinks the next action should be,” advised staff attorney Rebecca Markert.
Greenville is located approximately an hour South of Erie in Western Pennsylvania.