On May 30, 2009, the Miss Salem pageant was held in Salem City Utah. The city of Salem sponsored the event, and the Mayor of the city, J. Lane Henderson, gave opening comments. An invocation led by Salem City Councilperson Lynn Durrant called the attending public to prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.
According to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, preference by the government of one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion, is prohibited. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that religious invocations at public events are unconstitutional.
In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the offering of prayers by religious officials before voluntarily attended ceremonies such as graduation. Thus, the Court established that the state could not conduct religious exercises at public occasions even if attendance was not strictly compulsory.Establishment Clause of the First Amendment
After the Miss Salem 2009 event, I confronted Mayor Henderson about this, and he dismissed the concern categorically, even stating that his council meetings regularly begin with prayer.
As established by the Constitution and demonstrated through Supreme Court decisions, it is quite inappropriate for the Salem City government representatives to be conducting prayers at publicly attended events such as the Miss Salem 2009 pageant.
I have written to Mayor Henderson (and asked him to forward to Councilperson Durrant) regarding these concerns, and demanding a public apology and a declaration that Salem City will adhere to the US Constitution by no longer promoting religion or conducting prayers at public events in the future.
The civil liberties organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU)
has also been notified, and I've sent a letter to the editor of The Spanish Fork News
, the closest (that I know of) local paper to Salem City.
As most of you are probably aware, Utah has a heavily Mormon influenced culture, and other religions are routinely vilified. Atheism is basically unheard of; I've had multiple encounters with Mormon missionaries who react as if they'd never met an atheist before when I tell them that I am one. I seriously doubt that anyone else in my area even cares about the Constitutionality of government encouraged prayer, so if you support my efforts, please consider writing to this mayor as well; even if you don't live in the Utah area, the feedback will hopefully prod him to take this more seriously than he has.