At the beginning of every Chico City Council Meeting in northern California, a different spiritual leader from the community offers an invocation. Hindu prayers are scheduled for September, and a member of the Baha’i faith prayed in July. Congregation Beth Israel and Sonrise Christian Center have also offered invocations. To most people, this is a wonderful example of the freedom Americans have to live out their faith in harmony, even when they’re coming from different perspectives. But for the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), these prayers are a “repudiation of our secular history.”
In June, FFRF sent a letter to the Chico City Council, telling them to stop these prayers. FFRF argues that the United States was founded on separation of State and Church, ignoring the pivotal role religion of all kinds has played in American history. In fact, Congress appointed its first chaplain in 1789, a far different story than the one FFRF paints of a “secular, godless constitution.”
This isn’t the first city council meeting facing opposition for their constitutional use of public prayer. Chico employs a similar method as the town of Greece in upstate New York. While Chico only invited religious leaders, Greece opened their meetings more widely, inviting anyone in the community to lead invocations. Some people chose to pray before the meetings, others choose not to, but the platform was available to all. In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled that prayer opening government meetings or sessions was constitutional, but this past May, the Second Circuit ignored that case, ruling that the town of Greece was violating the constitution. Attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom appealed this case to the Supreme Court, and the court will hear the case this fall.
In the Greece case, opponents of prayer try to make it sound like they only want to ensure each faith has an equal number of invocations. But ultimately this letter from FFRF shows that many will not be content until all prayer has been eradicated from the public sphere. Alliance Defending Freedom sent a legal memo to the city of Chico, informing them that the letter from FFRF has no basis in constitutional reality. Now more than ever, Americans who value their free exercise of religion must stand up to radical groups trying to silence all prayer and expressions of faith in the public square.
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This post originally appeared here.