At the request of newly installed Commissioner Peggy Littleton, every meeting now opens with praying out loud. See my story for details.
Littleton’s appeal came at the Tuesday, Jan. 11 meeting, and two days later, at Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Sallie Clark led an invocation.
To prevent what happened in previous years — that it became too difficult and time consuming to line up clergy to lead prayer before meetings — commissioners, county staff, community leaders and regular old folks can now give the invocation, Lathen decided, based on Littleton’s suggestion.
Prayer before elected bodies convene is legal, according to a 1980s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and many groups now pray together or have a moment of silence before they meet.
But not everyone likes the idea. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a formal letter of complaint on Jan. 13, on behalf of an El Paso County resident.
In the organization’s letter to the commission, Co-President Dan Barker said that government prayer is “unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive.”
“Calling upon commissioners and citizens to rise and pray (even silently) is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular county government,” he said. “Commissioners are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time, in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers, otherwise known as atheists and agnostics.
All five commissioners said they supported increasing the frequency of public prayer before meetings. The commission has been incorporating invocations since 2006, but in recent years, it’s occurred only once a month.