— The Alliance Defense Fund is urging government bodies in South Carolina and Florida to continue their constitutionally protected practice of praying before public meetings, despite recent threats from atheist organizations. Within the past week alone, ADF, in cooperation with area lawyers who are part of the nearly 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance, sent letters to four local governments offering to defend valid invocation policies free of charge.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters to the cities of Aiken and Woodruff, S.C., and Spartanburg County, S.C., demanding that they discontinue the prayers, which they falsely claim are unconstitutional. The group Atheists of Florida has gone so far as to file a lawsuit to stop the practice in the city of Lakeland, Fla.
“America’s founders opened public meetings with prayer, and public officials today should be able to do the same,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Brett Harvey. “The First Amendment protects public officials who choose to invoke divine guidance and blessings upon their work. Those who oppose this are essentially arguing that the Founders were violating the Constitution as they were writing it.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheists of Florida allege that the prayers violate the rights of non-religious attendees and others who might feel offended or excluded by such invocations.
“Feeling offended does not mean the Constitution has been violated,” Harvey explained. “Through their campaign of fear, intimidation, and disinformation, these groups continue their threats against hometown governments that they consider to be easy prey. Public officials throughout our country need to be encouraged and reminded that they can and should resist the increasingly strident demands of radical secularist groups.”
The ADF letters contend that no legitimate legal basis exists for the demands of the two atheist groups. The letters cite legal precedent as well as numerous examples of public invocations, including one offered “in Jesus’ name” just days ago in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Allied attorneys Jay Thompson of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, LLP; Matthew Gerrald of Barnes, Alford, Stork & Johnson, LLP; and Timothy Savidge of the Bufkin Law Firm, LLC, all of Columbia, S.C., sent the three South Carolina letters on behalf of ADF.