A group of self-proclaimed Atheists from Madison, Wisconsin, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), have invaded the Mid-South area, threatening to file a lawsuit should Memphis City Council refuse to abandon its long-standing practice of beginning meetings with prayer. No suit yet, just threats.
FFRF held a press conference in the Memphis public library (on Sunday of course) disparaging the Council for allowing prayers, and claiming that they expect to file a lawsuit “soon.” Then, they submitted a guest commentary article that was published in the local newspaper on the following Saturday, again, expounding on “why [they’re] suing Memphis City Council over prayers.” In this commentary, Dan Barker, co-president of FFRF, labors to explain why Marsh v. Nebraska, the singular U.S. Supreme Court case directly on point, the one decision that deals with prayers before governmental bodies, doesn’t really apply to the situation at all. Accepting FFRF’s rants about these prayers, you would have to believe that Council members ought to be arrested on the spot for allowing them.
Barker and FFRF are in essence prayer bullies, constantly threatening harm, should they not get their way. What’s obvious, though, is that Barker has more bark than bite. Should they ever get around to filing a lawsuit – in lieu of just talking about it – that action will surely fail. Why? Because of the very case that Barker tries so hard to rationalize, Marsh v. Nebraska.
In Marsh, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “[t]he opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country” and clearly constitutional. On the strength of this holding, just last week, a federal district court in East Tennessee refused to grant FFRF’s request to eliminate prayers taking place before the County Commission of Hamilton County. (Unsurprisingly, Barker didn’t mention this ruling in his guest commentary).
The Center for Religious Expression is assisting the Memphis City Council in formulating a defense to this very defensible action. FFRF relies on posturing, not precedent, in their never-ending effort to strip our country of prayer. It’s time somebody stood up to these prayer bullies.