City of Lakeland Endorses Public Meeting Prayer


LAKELAND | City Commissioners are showing support for prayer during public meetings approving Lakeland officials' request to write an amicus brief to accompany a United States Supreme Court case.

The court will hear Town of Greece vs. Galloway in October about a town near Rochester, N.Y., that is involved in a lawsuit. A decision is expected by June 2014.

During a recent agenda study meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the plan to write an amicus brief..

City Attorney Tim McCausland said it's unclear how a ruling against prayer during public meetings by the Supreme Court would impact a federal appeals court ruling in March that upheld the constitutionality of prayers before meetings of the Lakeland City Commission. That ruling rejected arguments by the Atheists of Florida Inc., which filed a lawsuit in 2010 challenging both the city of Lakeland and Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields. The lawsuit contended, among other things, that praying during the meetings breaks down the division between church and state.

During the agenda study meeting, Commissioner Keith Merritt asked McCausland why it was in the city's interest to support the New York town.

Commissioner Edie Yates said that the city wouldn't want the Supreme Court to rule against the town. Commissioners then agreed to support the amicus brief, which are filed by someone not directly related to the case.

McCausland said the city plans to join other towns and cities that have spent money in defense of the lawsuits.

USA Today reported that the religious expression case focuses on the first 10 words of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled last year that the Greece Town Board violated that when it repeatedly used Christian clergy to conduct prayers at the start of its public meetings, USA Today reported.

Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian nonprofit group, appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The group already has support from 49 mostly Republican members of Congress and 18 state attorneys general, USA Today reported.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, is representing the two women who challenged the town's practice, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens. Galloway is Jewish; Stephens is an atheist, USA Today reported.

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