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.