MANATEE -- An attorney representing a Wisconsin foundation has requested that the Manatee County Commission halt prayers before its meetings, contending they violate the nation’s constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
“Removing official prayers from government meetings is the only way to respect the rights of conscience of all citizens, and ensure that the board is in compliance with the Constitution,” wrote Patrick Elliott, staff attorney at the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., of Madison, Wis., in a letter to Commission Chairwoman Carol Whitmore.
Elliott contended that prayer at government meetings is “unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” and added, “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.”
County Attorney Tedd Williams said Monday he did not think the foundation has constitutional grounds for a complaint, based upon recent rulings in the U.S. Court of Appeals 11th Judicial Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal cases originating in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
His opinion was seconded by Jim Minix, chief deputy county attorney.
“We’ve looked at the law, and we don’t believe we’re violating that law,” said Minix. “We’re not trying to impose any particular religion on the public or at the meeting; in fact, we try very hard to make it as open and non-denominational as possible.”