AU Opposes Sectarian Council Prayers In Florida

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked a federal appeals court to rule against sectarian prayers that opened city commission meetings in Lakeland, Fla., for a quarter of a century.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed May 18, Americans United urged the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a district judge’s decision that 25 years of primarily Christian prayers delivered by Christian clergy did not violate the First Amendment. The lower court held that the invocations represented a wide range of Christian viewpoints, and none of the pastors delivering invocations attempted to convert anyone.

Americans United argued that city’s practice clearly violated the constitutional separation of church and state, and the district court should have held that it did.

The sectarian bias was challenged in federal court by members of Atheists of Florida, and the city in recent years has revised its policy to include more diversity. (Atheists of Florida, Inc. v. City of Lakeland)