El Paso County urged to stop Christian prayers at public meetings

Freedom From Religion Foundation warns against violating U.S. Constitution
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The Board of County Commissioners, from left, Stan VanderWerf, Carrie Geitner, Holly Williams, Cami Bremer, Longinos Gonzalez Jr. (Photo courtesy EPCO)

Responding to a complaint, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has issued a letter to El Paso County commissioners urging them to abandon the long-standing practice of praying before regular commission meetings, as well as before the Jan. 10 swearing-in ceremony of county officials elected last November.

“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” FFRF’s staff attorney Christopher Line wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to commissioners.

This has come up before in school districts, as we reported here.

“County Commissioners are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time. The Board of Commissioners ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion by inviting religious leaders to give prayers,” Line wrote.

Noting that 37 percent of Americans are non-Christian and 32 percent of El Paso County residents identify as religiously unaffiliated, Line called it “coercive and intimidating” for nonreligious citizens to attend a public meeting and be required to witness the expression of a religious sentiment in which they do not believe.

But the county doesn’t appear to plan to end the practice anytime soon.

In a prepared statement provided by Vernon Stewart, the county’s executive director of communications on behalf of the commission and the County Attorney’s Office, he said, “The Board of County Commissioners take freedom of speech and religion seriously. We have also had non-Christian affiliated groups provide invocations in our meetings. The County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the letter … and will formally respond to the Freedom from Religion Foundation. We will gladly share that response with you when it is sent to the FFRF…. The County’s position is its practices fall squarely within United States Supreme Court precedent.”

FFRF wrote the letter after being alerted by Rob Rogers to the commissioners’ prayer routine.

“I was watching the [swearing in] ceremony itself and the invocation specifically,” he tells Sixty35 news magazine. “It was definitely a line that was crossed from a separation of state and church perspective. Not being part of the Christian Community, that’s obviously who Steve Holt was speaking for. I felt very under-represented to have commissioners accepting of something like that.”

He said Holt, pastor of The Road @ Chapel Hills church, which has a public policy website, read a prayer which Rogers deemed political in nature.

Holt said, in part, “Heavenly Father, I pray that they would be committed to truth in all their decisions. Give them the wisdom to rightly administer the law and to carry out their judgments and decisions in the fear of the Lord. Keep our leaders from adopting laws which are contrary to truth. Give these men and women the bold confidence and unity to stand up against the onslaught of media bias and ideologies contrary to our Constitution and the founding values that have made El Paso County one of the greatest counties in America.”

Rogers says Holt and his church have injected themselves in other aspects of public life. “He spoke at a [School District 49 school board] meeting last year and took credit for getting constitutional conservative school board members elected. In his public comments, he took credit for how this church had organized itself in that. He put the board on notice they were going to answer to them.”

Rogers said the church recently added a “government policy director.”

The Road church, as well as Church For All Nations, which we wrote about here, are part of the Seven Mountain Mandate Christian nationalist movement (for cultural influence, those being family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government). in Colorado Springs, which includes CFAN’s Culture Impact Teams. Rogers submitted his complaint to FFRF prior to recently being elected as the first vice chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party.

"Our nation is founded on a godless Constitution, whose only references to religion in government are exclusionary, such as 'no religious test shall ever be required' for public office." — Christopher Line

In the letter to the county, Line cited a prior court case in which it was found that “sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to . . . nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”

Elected officials, he noted, “are not permitted to provide prestige to religion through the machinery of a government office.”

He further noted that America was founded in part by those seeking freedom from government dictation of religion and that the Constitution’s framers adopted an “entirely secular Constitution.”

“Our nation is founded on a godless Constitution, whose only references to religion in government are exclusionary, such as ‘no religious test shall ever be required’ for public office,” the letter said. “Maintaining the separation of state and church offends nobody, includes everybody, and honors the First Amendment. In order to demonstrate the El Paso County Board of Commissioners’ respect for the diverse range of religious and nonreligious citizens living in El Paso County, we urge you to concentrate on civil matters and leave religion to the private conscience of each individual by ending the practice of hosting prayers at your meetings. Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to resolve this matter.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, commissioners began their meeting with a Christian prayer by a member of the Sheriff’s Office. Bremer said, “Please stand and join us in your own way.”

City Council also begins its meetings with prayer.



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