The president of Huntsville’s city council says public prayer at city meetings will not be eliminated, but will undergo some changes.
Earlier this year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the city of Huntsville a letter about prayer at council meetings, asking that the practice be ended immediately. FFRF is an atheist organization based out of Wisconsin, and left open the possibility of a lawsuit against the city if prayer continued.
On Thursday, Council President Mark Russell told WHNT News 19 that he is currently drafting a formal policy that would establish an opening prayer for every meeting, as is already the case. The policy would also create a system to rotate prayer among faith-based leaders from both Christian and non-Christian backgrounds. Council members and other city leaders would no longer be allowed to lead prayers themselves in the event that a pastor or minister could not attend that meeting.
Russell also said that all faith-based leaders may continue to pray as led, invoking the name of God, Jesus or any other religious figure they deem appropriate. He told WHNT News 19 that the practice falls within the boundaries of current federal law, and is confident it will stand up to any potential lawsuit.
“They [FFRF] have every right to send us letters and tell us what they think, just like any other group or citizen,” said Russell. “We will listen, and we’ll try to do what’s right, and I think in this case we are doing what’s right.”
A spokesman from the FFRF told WHNT News 19 that the organization had not changed it’s stance that the city of Huntsville needs to eliminate public prayer, and could still file a federal lawsuit.
Some area pastors said they would not be surprised if FFRF and other atheist organizations continued to apply pressure on city hall.
“I think that prayer is essential to major decision-making in this country,” said Wayne Benson, an associate pastor at The Rock Family Worship Center in Huntsville. “I think we’re coming to that point where we are going to have to decide, are we going to abandon our Judeo-Christian legacy in order to appease a group of people who literally want to take religion out of society altogether?”