The Sussex County, Del., Council has agreed to stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer before its meetings to settle a lawsuit brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The council agreed in September to discontinue the sectarian invocation as part of a settlement in Mullin v. Sussex County.
Americans United initially tried to persuade council members to drop the prayer practice, but they refused. In June of 2011, AU sued on behalf of local residents who believe government should not favor one faith over others.
AU represented the Rev. John Steinbruck, Barbara Mullin, Julie Jackson and Dr. William O’Connor. All plaintiffs in the lawsuit attend council meetings and were opposed to the governmental body’s promotion of one religious perspective and disrespect of other faiths. (See “Disputing Discriminatory Devotions,” September 2011 Church & State.)
In May, U.S. District Judge Leonard P. Stark ruled for the plaintiffs in a preliminary decision. Stark wrote that the council’s longstanding practice of opening all of its meetings with a Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer probably violates the Constitution “because it constitutes government endorsement of the Christian faith.”
Stark also urged both the council and AU to work toward an agreement to conclude the litigation. Attorneys for both sides began discussions, which resulted in the settlement. The court later signed off on the settlement, bringing the case to an end.
Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, expressed satisfaction with the council’s decision.
“I am glad to see that the council will stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer,” Lynn said. “Government should never favor one faith over others. All citizens should feel welcome at governmental meetings, regardless of their views about religion.”
AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan also praised the settlement.
“The Constitution does not permit government to open meetings with prayers that are sacred to Christians only,” Khan said. “I am pleased that we were able to amicably resolve the case.”
Along with Khan, the case has been litigated by AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and Delaware attorney David L. Finger.