Thanks to Americans United, the Reno County (Kan.) Commission may soon end its practice of opening meetings with sectarian invocations.
AU received a complaint about the prayers from a resident and found 14 instances between Dec. 6, 2011, and March 30, 2012, of prayers offered before meetings in which Jesus Christ was invoked.
In an April 12 letter to the board, AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and Staff Attorney Ian Smith said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that prayers before government meetings are only permissible if they avoid language that favors a specific religion. The letter also noted that “even nonsectarian prayers raise important concerns” because “prayers in the Judeo-Christian tradition tend to exclude and alienate” many people, including minority faiths and nonbelievers.
“Because the Commission is a representative body for all Reno County residents, regardless of their faith,” the AU attorneys wrote, “we urge you to consider eliminating the prayers altogether, so all commissioners and their constituents may feel equally welcome.”
County Commissioner Dan Deming said he didn’t want to discontinue the practice of sectarian pre-meeting invocations, but the county would have to comply anyway.
“I think it’s insulting to ask ministers who are Jesus-oriented to do a non-sectarian prayer, but we are going to have to comply,” Deming said, according to the Associated Press.