AU Warns Tuscaloosa County Commission To Stop Ignoring Records-Request Law

Watchdog Group Is Seeking Information About Sectarian Prayers Before Meetings Of Government Body

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today warned members of the Tuscaloosa County Commission to abide by the state’s records-request law or face the consequences.

More than a year ago, attorneys with Americans United wrote to the County Commission requesting documents related to the county officials’ practice of opening its meetings with sectarian prayers. There has been no response.

Americans United believes the commission’s prayer practice may be unconstitutional and has requested more information about it. Under state law, county officials are required to provide the information AU seeks “on demand.”

“A more than year-long delay in providing public records is unacceptable,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The members of the Tuscaloosa County Commission are dragging their feet. It makes me wonder if they have something to hide.”

Americans United began investigating the situation in Tuscaloosa County after residents complained that government officials were routinely leading prayers that were exclusively Christian in content. This practice, AU asserts, violates legal precedent.

In its original request for information, AU asked for all documents relating to “the Board’s policies regarding invocations or prayers at meetings” and “policies regarding the selection of prayer-givers and the content of prayers and invocations, as well as all rules and guidelines, application instructions and procedures currently in force relating to prayers or invocations.”

When no information was received, AU sent a follow-up letter on Jan. 5. That letter also went unanswered.

The latest letter warns that county officials are breaking the law and demands a response within 14 days. Copies were sent to the commission and to Robert McCullough Spence, an attorney who advises the commission.

County residents who may have information about this issue are invited to contact Americans United at americansunited@au.org or call (202) 466-3234.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.