Prayer in City Meetings Challenged - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Prayer in City Meetings Challenged

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ARDMORE, OK -- You don't have to go far in Ardmore to find signs that the community is one of faith. One place you see those signs is at the beginning of the city commissioners meeting.

After a letter was sent to the city from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, the prayer that opens those meetings is under fire.

"They're praying to Jesus every time, and if that is what's going on in Ardmore, they are outside the Constitutional bounds and are 100% violating the constitution," Andrew Seidel, attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation asserted.

When asked directly, "Do you pray in Jesus' name?" City manager J.D. Spohn responded, "We always have. Yes, we do."

The city manager has no issue with the Christian prayer.

"We feel like there's case law that supports our position and the general consensus is, in the city commission and my office is, that we don't feel like we should have to change a thing," Spohn said.

A letter from city attorney Ted Pasley cites that case law. The case of Marsh versus Chambers allowed the Nebraska legislature to open meetings with Christian prayer by a Presbyterian minister.

Seidel acknowledges there are cases where prayer is allowed, but feels there are strict conditions.

"The Supreme Court has made a ruling about Government prayer, that if it's non-denominational, non-sectarian and has a very long history, they will allow it in some cases.

In the Nebraska case, the court noted that the tradition had been upheld for over a century. Ardmore was founded in 1887, and while Spohn acknowledged that he could not say for certain how long prayers opened meetings, but he knew the tradition was long-standing.

"Our commissioners remember that there always has been [a prayer] through their life span, and I feel comfortable that there always [been prayer to open city meetings]," said Spohn.

The foundation says its mission is to protect the constitutional rights of non-believers, but in asking the city to quit praying, the city manager says someone else's rights are being violated, too.

"The more we think about it, should we have to change our entire history of the way we open our meetings and say our prayer?" Spohn questioned.

With both groups ready to stand their ground, the argument over prayer could be a long one.