Heaven for­bid: Lord’s Prayer in Mary­land town riles group

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SHIVAN SARNA

A civil lib­er­ties group is get­ting ready to take le­gal ac­tion against the town of Brent­wood, Md. for recit­ing the Lord’s Prayer in coun­cil meet­ings — a prac­tice the group says is un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based group, Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State, said the in­vo­ca­tion vi­o­lates the First Amend­ment by giv­ing Chris­tian­ity pref­er­ence over other reli­gions.

Brent­wood Mayor Roger E. Rud­der said that the prayer is a time-hon­ored tradition in his town of roughly 3,000 peo­ple.

“As far as I can re­mem­ber be­ing in this town, we’ve al­ways started our coun­cil ses­sions with a prayer,” he said. “We don’t ques­tion any­one of what faith they are.”

Amer­i­cans United has sent three let­ters ask­ing the Town Coun­cil to stop the prayer this year. They have not re­ceived a re­sponse.

“I’m very of­fended by the fact that they even sent me a let­ter,” Mr. Rud­der said.

The first let­ter was sent in into the ses­sions.

“When we be­gin our meet­ings, those who wish to pray can say a short prayer,” Mr. Rud­der said. “Oth­ers can ob­serve a mo­ment of si­lence.”

In a fol­low-up let­ter sent in Septem­ber, Amer­i­cans United or not,” said Ayesha Khan, le­gal di­rec­tor at Amer­i­cans United.

Af­ter two months of no change, Amer­i­cans United sent a third let­ter Nov. 14 ask­ing the town for pub­lic records — in­clud­ing coun­cil agen­das and min­utes, le­gal opin­ions, com­plaints and

Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State has sent three let­ters ask­ing the Brent­wood Town Coun­cil to stop the prayer this year. They have not re­ceived a re­sponse. “I’m very of­fended by the fact that they even

sent me a let­ter,” Mayor Roger E. Rud­der said.

April af­ter a com­plaint re­ceived from a Brent­wood res­i­dent. The let­ter asked the five-mem­ber coun­cil to end the prac­tice or re­vise it to al­low other reli­gions’ prayers.

Ear­lier this year, the coun­cil in­cor­po­rated a mo­ment of si­lence said de­spite the mo­ment of si­lence, the Lord’s Prayer was still re­cited. The group threat­ened to take le­gal ac­tion.

“That is still im­pos­ing a Chris­tian prayer on the au­di­ence and that’s im­proper whether they cou­ple it with a mo­ment of si­lence cor­re­spon­dence — re­lat­ing to the recita­tion of the Lord’s Prayer.

Ms. Khan said the group will use this in­for­ma­tion to build a law­suit. If there are no changes, she said a law­suit will be filed early next year. She said she hopes the con­flict can be re­solved with­out a law­suit, which would be both di­vi­sive and ex­pen­sive.

“I don’t care if they re­spond,” Ms. Khan said. “I care if they change the prac­tice.”

The prac­tice is un­wel­com­ing to non-Chris­tians and could lead them to “eas­ily con­clude that their in­ter­ests aren’t rep­re­sented by the coun­cil,” she said.

Mr. Rud­der said he has not re­ceived com­plaints from community mem­bers.

“The res­i­dents called me and told me they hope I would not stop open­ing all meet­ings with a prayer,” he said. “It’s tradition. We’ve con­tin­ued to do what we have al­ways done.”

Ms. Khan said the lack of com­plaints to City Hall is not sur­pris­ing.

“A per­son in the mi­nor­ity feels in­tim­i­dated about speak­ing up,” she said.

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