The town of Franklin, Vermont will no longer be saying prayers at their annual March meeting thanks to one courageous woman, Marilyn Hackett.
Since 2000, the beginning of the annual meeting has included a Christian prayer like this one:
Let us pray together. Lord, we thank you for this day as we come together as a community, and as we share this time together, we pray that you would bless each family, each person that serves in our community — our fire department, our rescue service, our school, our teachers. Lord, each one we ask that they be — Lord, may this day be glorifying to you to help us to do the business in a manner that is worthy of your [kingdom]. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
For years, Hackett objected to the prayer. In 2009, to just cite one instance, the town seemed to gang up against her:
… the town moderator agreed to forgo the prayer after she spoke to him but when a community member asked for the prayer, the moderator called for a vote by a show of hands, the complaint said. Hackett was the only one who voted against it.
Later during the 2009 meeting, a resident said he was proud to live in Franklin — a town of 1,300 — and if Hackett didn’t like it, she could move out, the complaint said.
Enough was enough. She finally sued the town in March, 2011.
Hackett is a “para-educator, tutor and summer school instructor” at Richford High School in the area and, for her efforts in pursuing this case, she has had to deal with the kinds of taunts normally reserved for high school atheists:
She says she is harassed by teenagers in her school several times a day about the case, who say “I love Jesus. God bless you Miss Hackett. God save you Miss Hackett,” she said.
“The only thing I can hope for is that years from now they’ll remember that there was an adult who stood up for her point of view,” she said.
There’s finally good news for her, though.
On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Martin Maley ruled in her favor (PDF):
The Town appears to suggest that the prayer is not ‘religious worship’ because it occurs at ‘an annual meeting,’ presumably in contrast to a church,” Maley wrote in his 15-page ruling, issued Wednesday at the courthouse in St. Albans. “The Court cannot agree. Article 3 (of the Vermont Constitution) prohibits compelled attendance at ‘any religious worship.’ Religious worship, of course, is not defined by the building it occurs in, nor by the events that take place after it.
The Court concludes that Ms. Hackett was compelled to attend religious worship.
Hackett may also be awarded legal fees for her victory.
It’s yet another example of what one person — knowing the law is on her side — can do, even when the rest of her community is against her.