GREENFIELD, OH- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to officials in Greenfield, in Highland County, warning them that the use of sectarian prayer at the beginning of city council meetings is unconstitutional. According to reports, the city council regularly begins meetings with prayers using phrases such as “in Jesus’ name.”
ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso said, “Courts have routinely held that a public body cannot begin their meetings with an inherently sectarian prayer. By doing so, the city gives preferential treatment to one religion and not others.”
“The ACLU strongly believes in religious liberty and has defended the rights of those who wish to practice religion. Every person should have the right to choose whether to follow religion and what belief system they would like to observe. However, the city has forced a particular sect on residents by exclusively favoring one religion over others,” added Gamso
Reports show that the city council has used sectarian prayer at multiple meetings, and as recently as its June 17, 2008 meeting.
In its letter to city council chairman Harvey Everhart, the ACLU of Ohio requested the city immediately stop the practice of sectarian prayer before city council meetings. The letter further states that if they refuse to do so, the organization may explore legal action against the city.
"Religion is a personal, private matter for any individual. The Constitution guarantees that we can choose to worship a particular religion or not without interference from the government. However, the actions of Greenfield City Council endanger that by showing favoritism for a particular religion," Gamso concluded.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan ACLU of Ohio is based in Cleveland with community and campus groups throughout the state. There are 30,000 ACLU members and supporters in Ohio and more than 500,000 nationwide.