clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Group wants to stop Kansas county from opening meetings with prayer

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — The practice of clergy offering a Christian prayer before Reno County Commission meetings could come to an end after a resident complained about the practice.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State notified the commission last week that it had received a complaint about the prayer. Commissioners said at Tuesday's meeting that they likely would have to agree to change the practice.

The letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, signed by the Washington, D.C., organization's legal director, Ayesha Khan, cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prayers at the opening of legislative meetings are constitutionally permissible only if "they do not use language specific to one religion."

The group said it found 14 prayers offered before meetings from Dec. 6, 2011, to March 30 of this year invoked the name of Jesus Christ.

"Probably 95 percent of the people in the community have no problem with that," Commissioner Dan Deming said. "But we're going to have to be politically correct and correct under the Supreme Court ruling, and I don't like it.

"I think it's insulting to ask ministers who are Jesus-oriented to do a nonsectarian prayer, but we are going to have to comply," Deming said.

Commission Chairman James Schlickau said ministers who have offered the prayers would be asked if they would consider offering a nonsectarian prayer.

"If their thought is they don't want to do that, we might go to have a moment of silence instead," Schlickau said. The Hutchinson City Council also offers prayers before its meetings but has not received a similar letter, City Manager John Deardoff said.

He said the city attorney has spoken with the county counselor about the issue.

"Not knowing the law, I suspect that if it's a problem for the county, then it's going to be a problem for us," Deardoff said.

The organization's letter asks the county commission to respond within 30 days on what action it plans to take. Boston said the organization occasionally files lawsuits in such cases.