The Rapid City City Council is catching heck for starting its meetings with Christian prayers. Following a complaint from a local citizen, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent Mayor Sam Kooiker and the city council members a letter urging them to knock off the exclusive, anti-First Amendment amens from the public dais. (In the Unwanted Autocorrect department, FFR's computer apparently couldn't believe anyone would be named Kooiker and replaced his name in the greeting with "Walker".)
Local pastors are up in arms. Dale Bartscher says "Our nation was built upon Judeo-Christian values." Our nation was also built on slavery, but you can't open a city council meeting with, "Hey, Negro, fetch me a mint julep."
City council member and arch-right-wing "family-values" campaigner Steve Laurenti said the city isn't making any law to establish religion; the council is just exercising it's freedom of speech... just as I would be exercising my freedom of speech if I opened every French class by asking my public high school students to stand and join me in declaring that there is no God so we'd better quit praying and start studying, right? But then Laurenti and the Rapid City Legal and Finance committee told city attorney Joel Landeen to draft a policy (that's kind of like a law, right?) establishing the city council prayer practices. Uh oh.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation says in its January 7 letter that saying the city prays in Jesus's name and that there is only one true god is "unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive." If I attend a Rapid City City Council meeting, I can plug my ears and stay seated through the council's public display of piety, but why should I let any elected official use his or her official position to denigrate on the record any of my fellow citizens' religious or non-religious beliefs?
The FFR says it best:
Local government should not be in the business of performing religious rituals, or exhorting all citizens, regardless of beliefs, to participate in a Christian prayer, or even asking citizens to show deference or obeisance to this ritual [Patrick C. Elliott, staff attorney, Freedom from Religion Foundation, letter to Mayor Sam Kooiker and Rapid City City Council, 2013.01.07].
Save the revival meetings for Sunday, Rapid City City Council. When the meeting starts, get to work.