SAGINAW, Mich. — An atheist activist group is demanding that officials in a Michigan city cease prayer during their council meetings out of its assertion that the practice is unconstitutional and alienates Godless residents.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent a letter to Saginaw City Manager Tim Morales asserting that the city’s long-held practice of prayer is problematic. It stated that an anonymous resident complained about the prayers, thus prompting the letter.
“Government prayers exclude a significant portion of Americans from the democratic process, are of dubious legality and are a repudiation of our secular history,” attorney Rebecca Markert wrote. “Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive. City council members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time.”
She stated that city council prayers demonstrate the government promotion of religion, which she contended was unlawful.
“Local governments should not perform religious rituals or exhort citizens, regardless of their beliefs, to participate in, or show deference to, a religious ritual,” Markert stated.
Mayor Dennis Browning told MLive.com that he is divided over whether or not the prayers should continue, but said that the decision is ultimately up to the city attorney and city council.
“I certainly don’t want to offend anybody,” he stated. “We really work hard to engage all our citizens. We can run a City Council meeting without it, but it’s kind of been a tradition that City Council does.”
However, others officials seemed to be more firm in their opinion, stating that the letter from FFRF is simply an attempt to erase God from public life and should be ignored.
“For me it’s a non-issue,” said Councilman Norman Braddock, who is also running for state government office. “We’ve got much more important things to be concerned about than prayer at a meeting. We don’t want to get distracted by outside influences who are on a mission to take God out of government.”
“I have a right to pray in public. That’s our right,” Mayor Pro Tem Amos O’Neal added to local television station WNEM. “So I think it’s a matter of determining based on the information we have what course of action we’ll take. I don’t see us refraining from praying. I just don’t see that happening.”
The city has yet to respond to FFRF’s letter as it is continuing to decide whether the organization’s assertions have merit.
As previously reported, government prayer is at the center of a case currently before the United States Supreme Court. The court is anticipated to rule next month regarding whether prayers predominantly in Jesus’ name are lawful if presented in cities that are principally Christian and Catholic. The ruling could have a significant impact on city hall and school board prayers nationwide.