HUNTSVILLE — The chairman of the Madison County Commission in Alabama is refusing to comply with atheist demands that he cease allowing Christian prayers at county meetings, and that he remove a Biblical citation from the county commission website.
Chairman Dale Strong says he will continue the invocations at the monthly meetings despite the likelihood that he will be sued over the practice, which he began upon his installation as chairman.
“I promise you this: we are not going to relent,” he told reporters. “We’re going to continue forward with how we conduct business in Madison County and I promise you we are not going to bow down to folks from Madison, Wisconsin.”
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent letters to Strong last month and again this month, claiming that the prayers are unconstitutional and alienate non-Christians and atheists in attendance.
“Prayer at government meetings continue to be litigated, divisive and problematic for local governments across the nation,” wrote staff attorney Andrew Seidel. “The best course is to halt the prayers.”
“If you wish to pray prior to the meeting, do so on your own time in your own way,” he continued. “Do not make it a part of the secular business of your local government.”
The commission, which hosts a variety of pastors from various Christian denominations, ignored Seidel during its last meeting and continued with the invocation anyway. The next meeting is set for September 11th.
However, not only does FFRF take issue with the prayers offered prior to commission meetings, but also the citation of Scripture on the county website. At the end of a paragraph greeting visitors, Strong writes, “The best is yet to come! Joshua 1:9.”
The verse reads, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
Seidel says that the Scripture is inappropriate, and must be removed immediately.
“The inappropriate religious message on your official website excludes and offends a significant portion of the population that is non-Christian or non-religious,” he wrote in a separate letter to Strong. “When you, the Madison County Commission Chairman, post a religious greeting message on your official website, you are acting as a government official, not as a private citizen. In doing so, you are endorsing the Christian religion for the government, not exercising your own religious values or beliefs.”
“If you wish to endorse religious messages, you must do so in your private capacity as a citizen, not in your official capacity as County Commission Chairman,” Seidel advised.
However, Strong says that he will not remove the Bible verse from the website either, and will stand his ground on both matters addressed by FFRF, even if it means going to court.
“The last thing we’re going to do is to let a group of atheists try to push their black cloud on top of Madison County,” he told the Huntsville Times. “They’ve seen their name in lights in Madison County, Alabama and so I believe they will take the opportunity to push forward their atheism belief. We’re prepared to handle whatever presents itself.”