According to transcripts obtained by FFRF and submitted along with its complaint, between January of 2008 and October of 2013, the city’s official chaplain, Paul Jones, has called the council meeting to order with a Christian prayer 125 times.
Many of Jones’s prayers include passages devoted to the role of prayer in public life. On March 18, 2008, Jones said:
The power of prayer is at the dynamic force to repel unrighteousness, but the influence of prayer has been dramatically reduced in our public life, and the moral compass of the Holy Scriptures has been largely laid aside. Public morality is declining to dangerously low points. Help each of us to always seek to live justly and to pursue righteousness and be zealous for lifestyles that honor God. We’re most grateful for our nations motto that strongly instructs us, in God we trust.
FFRF’s complaint alleges that “[t]he prayers advance and proselytize for Christianity. They distort and fabricate American history to further the appearance that our government endorses and supports Christianity, and they disparage non-Christians by claiming that not living in accordance with the Christian god’s rule of law is sinful and wrong.”
The city contends that the prayers aren’t sectarian, but the FFRF claims that “[t]he prayers are addressed to ‘our’ God 99% of the time (at least 1 18 times of 119 full audio) and conclude in the name of ‘our’ God 95% of the time (119 of 125 prayers). Plaintiffs allege that the use of the word ‘our,’ as in “our personal Savior and Lord,” in the prayer context is not only sectarian, but also excludes them and all non-Christians.”
The case is likely to draw more attention as the Supreme Court takes up Town of Greece v. Galloway, which concerns, among other things, Christian invocations at city council meetings.
["Portrait Of Happy Old Man In His 90'S Pray To God." on Shutterstock]
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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