Fredericksburg City Council Agrees to ACLU Request, Adopts Non-Sectarian Prayer Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
November 14, 2005 12:00 am

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Council Will No Longer Open Meetings with Christian Invocation

FREDERICKSBURG, VA – Following a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the Fredericksburg City Council voted last night to make the prayers that open its meetings non-sectarian.

“Fredericksburg City Council made the right decision,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Not only are they in compliance with court rulings on government prayer, but people of all faiths will now feel welcome at city council meetings in Fredericksburg.”

The official decision comes more than two years after a Fredericksburg resident complained that Rev. Hashmel Turner, an elected member of council, was delivering Christian prayers at the beginning of council meetings.

Turner stopped participating in the prayer ceremony after the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit, but asked fellow members of Council to adopt a policy permitting sectarian prayers.

“The Supreme Court allows government meetings to be opened with a prayer,” said Willis. “But it has been clear for many years that these prayers must be broad, inclusive invocations of faith that unify rather than divide on the basis of religion.”

“The ACLU would be the first organization in line to defend Rev. Turner’s right to espouse his Christian beliefs in church, in any public forum, and even during official city council deliberations,” Willis added. “But when an elected official opens a government meeting with a prayer, that official is speaking for the government, and the government is not allowed to express a preference for one religion over another.”

Fredericksburg City Council, like many local governing bodies in Virginia, opens its meetings with a prayer delivered by a member of Council. The responsibility for delivering the prayer changes each meeting, rotating through the list of participating council members. Of the four members of council who choose to participate, only Rev. Turner was delivering a sectarian prayer.

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