A city in West Virginia has been ordered to pay $60,000 in legal fees after being sued by a national secular legal organization that objected to the practice of opening city council meetings with the Lord’s Prayer.
In an announcement Thursday, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation said that a federal court had ordered the town of Parkersburg to pay $60,000 to cover attorney fees and other costs associated with the lawsuit filed on behalf of two nonreligious residents in 2018.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr.,✱ an appointee of President Gerald Ford, ordered the city on Thursday to pay $58,031.40 in attorney fees and $971.28 in costs to FFRF and its two co-plaintiffs.
Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce blamed a liberal minority and said the city’s insurance carrier will pay the tab. “Prayer remains a daily part of my life and a vital component of how I live my life and discharge my duties as a son, brother, friend and mayor,” he added.
✱97 years old
Senior United States Judge John Copenhaver, Jr. made the ruling Thursday, October 6, in Charleston. Back in May, the federal court ruled that City Council had to stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
Judge Copenhaven ruled that the prayer violates the establishment clause of the first amendment. Copenhaven issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the city council of Parkersburg from continuing its prayer practice. At that time, each of the plaintiffs in the case was awarded a settlement of one dollar each.
At least one prior member of the City Council has been openly hostile to nonparticipants in the prayer ritual. Then-Councilman Eric Barber glared at attendees who sat during the prayer at a meeting. At the end of that prayer, Barber positioned himself near his microphone, pressed the button, and shouted, “Amen.” In June, Barber was sentenced to 45 days in jail for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Barber was not accused of violence that day, but prosecutors noted that he wore a Kevlar helmet and went to Washington, D.C. to “go punch a Antifa terrorist in the face,” referring to the loosely-knit antifascist activists sometimes accused of violence themselves.