Woman files suit to stop prayer

October 23, 2009 3:23:41 PM PDT
There's another battle brewing in the fight over the separation over church and state. A Houston woman says she believes the city council is violating the constitution by beginning their meetings with a prayer. Plaintiff Kay Staley and her attorney, Randall Kallinen, have slapped the city of Houston with a federal lawsuit, arguing that the long held tradition of saying a prayer before city council meetings is unconstitutional

"Just because it always has been doesn't make it right," said Staley. "There are lots of people who feel exactly the same way I do. Most people are afraid to come out and say anything because of their jobs or their friends."

The lawsuit says by allowing open prayer, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion, it violates the separation of church and state. But the city's legal department says there are already some legal guidelines allowing for some religious invocation at public gatherings.

"I think that's what we need to do," said Houston Senior Assistant City Attorney Don Cheathan. "Is review the lawsuit and see what they're alleging and then look at our practices and policies and make sure we're in conformity with current law."

Currently, council members take turns either saying prayers or bringing in a religious figure to say a prayer before every Tuesday's public session and at least one council member says he's not going to change that.

"I think they are publicity stunts," said Councilmember Mike Sullivan. "I don't think it's a genuine concern. Nobody has come before to do this at the city of Houston that I am aware of."

Sullivan says he'll vigorously defend his ability to participate in prayer at city hall, while Staley says she'll vigorously pursue the lawsuit to end city hall prayers

"I think prayer ought to be a a private matter," said Staley. "I don't want anyone praying for me."

And it could very well end up in the hands of the federal courts.

You may remember Staley for her lawsuit that forced the Harris County to remove a Bible monument.

Staley sued the county in 2003, arguing that displaying the King James Bible at the courthouse violated the constitutional separation of church and state. A federal judge and the Fifth Circuit agreed with Staley and the county removed a monument which displayed the Bible.

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