First Liberty Briefing: Is Opening a City Council Meeting with Prayer An American Tradition?

First Liberty Briefing: Is Opening a City Council Meeting with Prayer An American Tradition? August 1, 2017

Is Opening a City Council Meeting with Prayer An American Tradition?

In 2012, the Mt. Vernon City Council received a complaint for opening the meeting with prayer. In an effort to satisfy everyone, the prayer took place two minutes before the meeting officially started but that ultimately caused uproar. Learn more about the case at

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Back in 2012, as the Mt. Vernon City Council officially gaveled in their monthly meeting, someone offered a prayer.

That’s not terribly out of the ordinary. But, something was different this time.

This prayer took place at 7:28.

The meeting officially started at 7:30.

Everyone noticed the change.

You see the city council had received a complaint from a local atheist questioning and disparaging the practice. He even told the local press, “Having a prayer of any faith creates an atmosphere of exclusion.” In response, the council took the prayer off the agenda and moved it ahead two minutes, before official business began.

No one was satisfied.Is Opening a City Council Meeting with Prayer An American Tradition?

To the atheist, it was still exclusionary. To the rest, it was one more capitulation of driving religion from the public square. The uproar was so great that the city council was compelled to pass a resolution restoring the prayer to the agenda.

Well, the whole thing was avoidable.

City councils have been opening their official business with prayer since our country’s beginning. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed this tradition, most recently explaining in Greece v. Galloway that legislative prayer is “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage.”

In other words, cities opening their meetings with prayer are part of who we are as a country.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

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