Group attacks prayers before city council meetings

By Jonathan Walsh - bio | email

Posted by Dave Dykema - email

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Toledo City Council is under attack by a national organization against members saying a prayer before their meetings.

Based in Wisconsin, the group Freedom From Religion Foundation has close to 14,000 members.

A member from Toledo contacted the group about the prayers.  Its leadership then sent a letter to council saying prayers at meetings are against the law.

News 11 talked with Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. She says her foundation examined Toledo City Council meetings from January through August of 2009 and found a number of references to Jesus.

Some examples:

"In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen."

Gaylor says, "They're violating the Supreme Court parameters on government prayer by invoking Jesus frequently. Our organization doesn't think there should ever be government prayer."

Some council members have their own opinions.

"You know what? Grow up," says Tom Waniewski. He is not impressed with the foundation's concerns. "Stop whining about things. I'm also tired of cow towing to a small minority that's a vocal minority."

Members like Waniewski and Michael Ashford have no problem with a Toledo tradition: inviting leaders from various churches to say a prayer before council meetings.

"This country was founded on Christian principles. The Founding Fathers were strong in their faith," says Ashford.

Council President Joe McNamara says he's aware of the foundation's letter requesting the council stop the prayers, but he has not read it thoroughly.

At this point the organization is not threatening a lawsuit but mentioned it has several suits pending concerning other religious issues.

"Anybody ought to be able to attend a meeting without feeling like a political outsider because they are not religious," says Gaylor.

Wanieski defends it, saying, "We are practicing what the Constitution allows us to do at council."

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