Group challenges prayer before Rapid City council meetingsRAPID CITY (AP) — The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the Rapid City Council to stop having a local minister lead a prayer to start council meetings, a request that has not been well-received by city leaders.
RAPID CITY (AP) — The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the Rapid City Council to stop having a local minister lead a prayer to start council meetings, a request that has not been well-received by city leaders.
The Wisconsin-based nonprofit, which advocates for the separation of church and state, said it received a complaint from a Rapid City resident who objects to the prayers, the media reported.
"I think the best thing is for the council to just get down to business and do the work they're there to do, rather than engage in religious issues," said Patrick Elliot, the attorney who drafted the group's letter to the city.
Mayor Sam Kooiker noted that the Legislature and Congress open sessions with prayer and said he is "strongly in favor" of continuing the practice at Rapid City meetings. The council has had ministers lead a prayer to start meetings since at least the 1960s, he said.
"I believe that this is a time-honored tradition that has strong community support," Kooiker said.
City Council President Bonny Petersen also said she supports having prayers before a meeting as long as they are legal.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation didn't explicitly threaten to sue in its letter to the city. But Elliot said the group this year will push to resolve the prayer issue in courts across the country, if necessary.
"In the coming year, (Freedom From Religion) will be involved in lawsuits on this issue. I won't disclose where those cases will be," Elliot said. "Our preference is to not have a lawsuit. I don't think it's in anyone's interest to be in litigation like that."
Kooiker said he supports drafting a policy on the prayers, which he said might protect the city in case of a lawsuit. City Attorney Joel Landeen said there is no guarantee such a policy would protect the city but he still recommended writing one for the council's consideration. The city's Legal and Finance Committee is to discuss the matter Wednesday.
Elliot said a compromise would be for the council to hold a moment of silence before meetings.