American Humanist Association Tells Wilmington City Council To Stop Unconstitutional Prayers at Meetings

The Wilmington City Council (in North Carolina) has invited local pastors to deliver invocation prayers for a while now. Not generic “let’s pray to God” invocations… but specific “Let’s pray to Jesus” ones.

Wilmington City Hall

The American Humanist Association has documented it and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center is ready to pounce:

The recordings of the city council meetings posted on your website reveal that many meetings from June 21, 2011 through June 19, 2012, opened with a sectarian prayer. The prayers frequently mention “Jesus,” quote the Bible, or are traditional Christian prayers. Given these facts, the city’s actions are quite clearly in violation of the Establishment Clause and therefore unconstitutional.

Lawyer Bill Burgess cites the following violations (PDF):

The following sectarian prayers were offered using the language quoted on the dates indicated: 6/19/2012 (The Lord’s Prayer), 5/1/2012 (“In the name of Christ Jesus”), 12/6/2011 (Trisagion prayer, Lord’s Prayer), 11/15/2011 (“In the name of Christ Jesus”), 11/1/2011 (Matthew 20:28), 10/18/2011 (Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30), 10/4/2011 (“Our redeemer”), 9/20/2011 (“God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”), 9/6/2011 (“In the beautiful name of Christ Jesus”), 8/16/2011 (“Jesus”), 8/2/2011 (“Jesus”).

If the City Council doesn’t respond within a week, litigation may occur. And the City Council will lose:

“Sectarian prayers before public governmental meetings are unconstitutional because it amounts to an official endorsement of the particular religion that the prayers reflect,” wrote Appignani Legal Center Director William J. Burgess in his letter. “The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has been very clear in its cases interpreting the Establishment Clause in this area.”

“The Wilmington City Council should create an environment where everyone is welcome,” said American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “By continuing to include prayers that openly endorse a single religion, the council is telling Wilmington citizens outside that faith that they are unwelcome.”

*Hemant puts on party hat*

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    It seems crazy that every time this happens (and it happens a lot) a new civil court case is required. There should be a way to make this criminal. It’s as if everyone who got a traffic citation could require a court to find their action illegal before suffering any consequences… regardless of how many thousands of others had done the same before them.

    When is it going to be settled that this behavior is illegal? When a city does something like this, we need judges who are willing to put the leaders in jail, for contempt if nothing else.

    • Baby_Raptor

      It’s already settled that this behavior is illegal. People just ignore that inconvenient fact. 

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Yeah… because basically there are no consequences to ignoring it. At worst some court orders them to stop. We need major fines against these government entities.

  • SteveS

    It is like Whack-a-mole… Suppress it here, it pops up there. It is a horrible and ridiculous waste of time and resources. But, they have our Congress to use as a bad example. It is why government at all levels in our country is breaking down. These people are not there to solve civic problems. They think they are there to make a stand for god and jesus. And, if they just pray enough, god and jesus will bring armageddon and the end of the world. 2000 years, and waiting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1487131092 Ari Bakke

    This shouldn’t have been happening in the first place.  I am severely disappointed at the severe lack of constitutional adherence with regards to the First Amendment (specifically, freedom of religion) that is proposed by the party that seems to continually spout Constitutional quotes (Republicans) – Not that I wish to make a strawman argument, but, quite frankly, this seems more and more the case these days.

  • SHUTyouFACE

    Wow. You people have nothing better to do than to attack the religious practices of small town politicians. I’m glad this sort of thing makes you feel better. Next you’ll be kicking kittens or something because they wandered onto your driveway. 

    You go get em!

    • pureone

      I think you meant to say “Thank you for protecting the First Amendment, because I’m not gonna like it when (not if) a different religious non-christian group has control of a governmental body of any size and starts having their prayers on taxpayer time.”

      I would venture to say since the majority of the population is Christian, the majority of animal abusers are Christian. I could be wrong.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      You’ll no doubt continue to make this argument until the day comes when it’s your small town, and the religious practices they advocate are inconsistent with your own religious or philosophical beliefs. I guess you’ll be the first in line on that day, demanding that the Constitution be enforced.

      (BTW, nobody is attacking the religious beliefs or practices of the politicians, or anybody in this town.)


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