Parkersburg officials asked citizens to join them in the Lord’s Prayer. After atheists sued, a judge said that’s illegal.
DATELINE: PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The ruling from U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver (Ford) came in a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization, based in Madison, Wisconsin, sued the city in 2018. They based their case on the grounds of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The clause forbids a government favoring one religion over others.
In a 30-page ruling issued yesterday, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. said the prayers in question were unconstitutional because they were all given by members of the city council, “unceasingly and exclusively” promoted Christianity, invited constituents to join officials in prayer, and pressured citizens to join in because of the nature of the meetings. For all those reasons, the practice needs to end.
The lawsuit was only filed after FFRF attempted to put a stop to the practice in 2015. They said that the council had two choices: Get rid of the prayer altogether or open the door to non-Christian beliefs being represented at meetings. The city never responded to that letter. The lawsuit, then, was something of a last resort.
$1 in damages was awarded to each of the two plaintiffs that FFRF represented.
Mayor Tom Joyce said they would obey the judge’s order, but said:
“If they were truly offended by the Lord’s Prayer, then they could simply not enter the room or not participate. But unfortunately we live in a society where it’s easy to sue.”