JACKSONVILLE, FL: ACLU says the practice divides the community along religious lines and violates the establishment clause of the constitution. Warns Council to stop opening prayer tradition or face a lawsuit.
The issue arose when Dr. Parvez Ahmed, a Muslim, was nominated to the Human Rights Commission earlier this year. Councilman Don Redman and Ahmed had an exchange about prayer at one of the meetings that became widely controversial.
The American CRIMINAL Liberties Union sent a letter to Mayor John Peyton and City Council President Richard Clark asking that the city stop opening council sessions with sectarian prayer. According to the ACLU, that issue has caused a number of (MUSLIM)complaints over Christian-themed prayer to start council meetings. ACLU attorneys said if the City Council does not stop the practice in the next 30 days, it will file a lawsuit.
“The practice that the city is doing right now basically says Christianity is the faith that people in Jacksonville should be practicing,” said Benetta Standly, of the ACLU. “We want the city to really respect the diversity of all the people in the city.”
“We’ve got a 19-member body, all of whom are Christians,” Clark said in a phone interview. “I think a prayer is very appropriate, and I plan on continuing that practice. My hope is that (Councilman) Jack Webb in the next council year as president continues to practice. I think it’s certainly something we should do to ask to have a higher power look out after us a little more as we make these decisions for the city.”
Clark said the council is not forcing a Christian prayer on anyone, adding that just happens to be the makeup of the council. He said prayers would also be accepted, for instance, from a Jewish Rabbi or a Muslim. NEWS4jax