Religious Liberty Press Release

09.14.15

ACLU Warns Official on Sponsorship of Prayer Meetings by City of Wadsworth

Street signs showing intersection of Church and State

WADSWORTH—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to the city of Wadsworth in Medina County, warning that the sponsorship of prayer meetings by city council members in city council chambers raises grave concerns of constitutionality.

According to a Wadsworth City Council news release, Council President Tom Palecek called a meeting for prayer to be held at the Wadsworth City Council Chambers this Thursday at 7:30 p.m., with another one scheduled for September 24. The purpose of these meetings Palecek said was, “to develop a plan for daily prayer by the community to overcome drug usage in Wadsworth, especially heroin.”

ACLU of Ohio Staff Attorney Drew Dennis said, “We are deeply concerned by the city’s apparent sponsorship of prayer meetings. The First Amendment prohibits the government from becoming excessively entangled with religion. Promoting prayer meetings through a city council press release and holding the meetings in city council chambers does just that.

“The ACLU strongly believes in religious liberty and has defended the rights of those who wish to practice religion. However, the city should not be in the business of sponsoring community prayer meetings for its citizens.”

In its letter to Norman E. Brague, director of law for the city of Wadsworth, the ACLU of Ohio advised the city to immediately end its sponsorship of the upcoming prayer meetings. It also requested that public records, including financial expenditures, correspondence among city employees and its representatives, and advertising related to the announced prayer meetings, as well as any policy pertaining to the use of council chambers, be made available for review by Wednesday, September 16.

“Religion is a personal matter for any individual,” Dennis said. “The Constitution guarantees that we can choose to worship a particular religion or not without interference from the government. That also means that the government should not promote a particular religion or religious practice on its citizens. It’s clear that the actions of the Wadsworth City Council crosses the line dividing church and state.”

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