Freedom From Religion Foundation Sues West Virginia City for Reciting the Lord’s Prayer at City Council Meetings

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, left, speaks to members of City Council about the plan to replace the first of three municipal fire stations Tuesday during a special council meeting at the Municipal Building. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

A Wisconsin-based atheist organization has filed a lawsuit against a West Virginia city over the local government’s practice of opening official meetings with a reciting of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the suit on Tuesday against the City of Parkersburg in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. In their complaint, the FFRF stated that Parkersburg cannot open its City Council meetings with the Lord’s Prayer nor can they encourage attendees to participate.

“The City Council’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer has the primary effect of both advancing religion and expressing Defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion,” read the suit.

“The City Council members have coerced participation in religion by leading meeting attendees in the Lord’s Prayer and intimidating nonparticipants.”

The suit was filed on behalf of two local residents, one who identifies as atheist and another as “agnostic atheist,” who attended multiple meetings and felt unwelcomed due to the prayer and the apparent expectation that they participate.

Mayor Tom Joyce defended the practice, telling the Parkersburg News and Sentine that the prayer “takes place before the meeting and no one is invited to rise and join.”

This is not the first time that the FFRF has sent a complaint toward the West Virginia city. In April 2014, Parkersburg South High School painted over a Bible verse in their gymnasium following a letter of complaint from the atheist group.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski