City council prayers may prompt lawsuit from atheist group - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

City council prayers may prompt lawsuit from atheist group

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Freedom From Religion Foundation president announced plans to sue the Memphis City Council at a meeting over the weekend. Freedom From Religion Foundation president announced plans to sue the Memphis City Council at a meeting over the weekend.
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - Officials with an atheist group say they plan to sue to stop the Memphis City Council from holding prayers at its meetings.

The city council heard from that group years ago and it hasn't changed a thing.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue the city in a letter in 2009 and Memphis City Council attorney Alan Wade says he hadn't heard anything since.

"People threaten to sue us all the time," he said. "That's their prerogative."

However, during a Freedom From Religion Foundation meeting over the weekend, the group's president announced its intention to sue the council.

The group claims that opening each council meeting with a prayer is a violation of the separation of church and state.

"They're very blatant about it," said Dan Barker, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. "Their prayers are sectarian. Most of them are in the name of Jesus. Many of them are open sermons. They're directed at the public, the people who are there. This is a good object lesson about what a city should not be doing."

"We will defend it vigorously," said Wade. "We don't think we're doing anything wrong. We think we honor any and everybody that wants to speak."

Wade said the invocations don't endorse any particular religion and that every meeting ends with an open forum which allows the public to comment on anything.

"As we understand it, the true test is that you don't favor any particular religion or that you don't discourage a religion," Wade said. "That's what we try to follow. We're not advancing any one religion. I don't think the council could agree on it if they wanted to."

And while Wade said the council won't budge on the prayers, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said the council's wrong.

"We'll take it to a judge to see if the city's right or if we're right," said Barker.

Both sides said they're prepared to let a court decide.

Foundation officials said the group may file suit as early as this week, but would like to add more plaintiffs before doing so.

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