Lord’s Prayer in Brentwood riles liberties group

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A civil liberties group is getting ready to take legal action against the town of Brentwood for reciting the Lord’s Prayer in council meetings — a practice the group says is unconstitutional.

The Washington-based group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the invocation violates the First Amendment by giving Christianity preference over other religions.

Brentwood Mayor Roger E. Rudder said that the prayer is a time-honored tradition in his town of roughly 3,000 people.

“As far as I can remember being in this town, we’ve always started our council sessions with a prayer,” he said. “We don’t question anyone of what faith they are.”

Americans United has sent three letters asking the Town Council to stop the prayer this year. They have not received a response.

“I’m very offended by the fact that they even sent me a letter,” Mr. Rudder said.

The first letter was sent in April after a complaint received from a Brentwood resident. The letter asked the five-member council to end the practice or revise it to allow other religions’ prayers.

Earlier this year, the council incorporated a moment of silence into the sessions.

“When we begin our meetings, those who wish to pray can say a short prayer,” Mr. Rudder said. “Others can observe a moment of silence.”

In a follow-up letter sent in September, Americans United said despite the moment of silence, the Lord’s Prayer was still recited. The group threatened to take legal action.

“That is still imposing a Christian prayer on the audience and that’s improper whether they couple it with a moment of silence or not,” said Ayesha Khan, legal director at Americans United.

After two months of no change, Americans United sent a third letter Wednesday asking the town for public records — including council agendas and minutes, legal opinions, complaints and correspondence — relating to the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Ms. Khan said the group will use this information to build a lawsuit. If there are no changes, she said a lawsuit will be filed early next year. She said she hopes the conflict can be resolved without a lawsuit, which would be both divisive and expensive.

“I don’t care if they respond,” Ms. Khan said. “I care if they change the practice.”

The practice is unwelcoming to non-Christians and could lead them to “easily conclude that their interests aren’t represented by the council,” she said.

Mr. Rudder said he has not received complaints from community members.

“The residents called me and told me they hope I would not stop opening all meetings with a prayer,” he said. “It’s tradition. We’ve continued to do what we have always done.”

Ms. Khan said the lack of complaints to City Hall is not surprising.

“A person in the minority feels intimidated about speaking up,” she said.

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