- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - A national group that defends the separation of church and state says Parkersburg City Council is violating the law by saying the Lord’s Prayer before public meetings.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the council to discontinue the prayer, making the request in a letter to council President J.R. Carpenter, the Parkersburg News and Sentinel reports (https://bit.ly/1KJXcjQ ).

The foundation’s staff attorney, Patrick Elliot, says in the letter that the prayer discriminates against citizens who aren’t religious by asking the council members to stand for the prayer.

“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive,” Elliot wrote. “City council members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time.”

Carpenter and Councilman John Rockhold say the prayer is voluntary and the council isn’t doing anything illegal. Elliott argued that even though the members are not forced to stand, they must either do so or make a public display of their nonbelief.



Carpenter said the meetings are not officially called to order until after the prayer and Pledge of Allegiance have been said.

“That is a voluntary prayer and pledge prior to the meeting,” he said.

Mayor Jimmy Colombo said the council won’t stop the practice, which he says is done in the U.S. Senate as well as in the West Virginia Legislature in Charleston.

“If you don’t want to say a prayer, sit down and don’t say a prayer,” Colombo said.

Carpenter said he passed the letter on to City Attorney Joe Santer, who was not immediately available to respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

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Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.), https://www.newsandsentinel.com

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