FFRF objects to sectarian prayers in Tulsa
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has formally complained to Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. of Tulsa, Okla., about unconstitutional sectarian prayers at Tulsa City Council meetings.
In a Dec. 10 letter on behalf of a local complainant and FFRF’s Oklahoma members, Rebecca Markert, senior staff attorney, noted that transcripts of the prayers used to open meetings from August through October 2010 "often invoke Jesus Christ and are typically sectarian in nature, in this instance predominantly Christian."
An example, from Oct. 28, 2010, by Lem Taylor, Sector Chief of the Tulsa Police Department Chaplaincy Corps:
“May we pray? Most Holy Father, we just come to you this evening and we pray for Tulsa, Father. We pray for joy, peace, and unity, Father. Father, as I pray this evening, I pray, I lift up our Mayor Bartlett. We lift up each and every city council. We ask that there be peace and joy in their heart. Give them that peace, Father. Give them that joy. And Father, I pray that as they make decisions for us in this city, that it be done with the righteousness in their heart. I pray that each one of them feel peace in their areas, and that they do what you help assign them to do, Father. And Father, help them be all that you would help them to be. And Father, be careful to give you all the praise. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
Markert said prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive. "Calling upon Tulsa City Council members and citizens to rise and pray is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular city government. Council members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way."
The violation is compounded when a majority of the officiants are Christian or Christian clergy, Markert added. "Such prayer creates acrimony, makes religious minorities feel like political outsiders in their own community, and shows unconstitutional governmental preference not just for religion over nonreligion, but Christianity over other faiths."
Nor do the prayers fall into the narrow exception of the constitutionally permissible government-sponsored prayer laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Marsh v. Chambers in 1983, Markert said.
The constitutional rights of citizens to participate in government meetings should not be predicated upon being subjected to Christian-based, or even nondenominational, prayer., Markert said. "Tthe solution is simple: Discontinue official, government prayers before legislative meetings. We request a prompt response in writing about what steps you are taking to respect the Establishment Clause and remedy these constitutional violations."
The Foundation also has a local chapter in Tulsa.