Group asks West Virginia council to stop prayers at meetings

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — A Wisconsin-based advocacy group has issued a complaint on a West Virginia city council’s practice of opening meetings with predominantly Christian prayers, a local news outlet reported.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation asked the Wheeling City Council to stop the practice in a Jan. 9 letter addressed to Mayor Glenn Elliott from the group’s attorney, Brenda Johnson.

Wheeling resident Josh Riffle publicly objected to prayer being led by members of council on at least two recent occasions, The Wheeling News-Register reported. Prayer was offered as usual following his objections at the beginning of the meetings. The foundation stated that it was alerted to the occurrences by an unnamed “concerned Wheeling citizen and taxpayer.”

The letter cited the 2017 Lund v. Rowan County case in North Carolina, in which a county board opened each session with a prayer, often with references to Christianity and without asking other faiths to participate, according to records filed in the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled the board violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment when it “elevated one religion above all others and aligned itself with that faith.” Johnson’s letter argues that the situation in Wheeling resembles the North Carolina case.

During all 2019 council meetings in which a recording was available, the meeting began with a Christian prayer led by council, with the exception of a March 5 meeting when a Christian minister gave an invocation, the letter documented.

Elliott didn’t return calls Monday seeking comment, the newspaper reported. It’s also unclear if the Freedom From Religion Foundation is pursuing formal legal action.

Kassie Simmons
Kassie Simmons joined the team in January 2019 as a weekend journalist. She graduated from Virginia Tech in just two and a half years with a BA in multimedia journalism. During her short time at Virginia Tech, she served as the editor for the university’s chapter of The Tab. Kassie was named the top reporter for The Tab at Virginia Tech on multiple occasions and made the list for the top 30 reporters for The Tab in the U.S. She also studied theater performance and minored in creative writing. Before coming to WOAY, Kassie interned at WSLS in Roanoke and the Tidewater Review in her hometown of West Point, Va. She has loved following breaking news since her childhood and has a passion for delivering the stories people care most about. Kassie is excited to be working in Southern West Virginia and looks forward to all the adventures ahead of her. You can follow her on Twitter at @KassieLSimmons and like her page on Facebook. If you have a story you think she should check out, send her an email at ksimmons@woay.com.