The city of Marshfield is once again under fire from the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation–this time for including a prayer at the start of Common Council meetings. The foundation filed a suit this week, claiming the prayer violates the constitutional separation of church and state. In the complaint, foundation attorney Rebecca Markert said asking citizens to stand and pray is coercive, and beyond the scope of secular city government.
Mayor Chris Meyer said the prayers are not sanctioned by the city. And he said that the separation of church and state is one thing, but so is freedom of speech. “I certainly have no intention of telling people they can’t come in during public comments and say a prayer, if that’s what they choose to do,” said Meyer. “This is in my opinion an infringement first amendment rights of the people who come to give those invocations. If they’re told that they can’t have the invocation on the agenda, I suspect they’ll still come and do the same thing, they’ll just do it during public comments.” Meyer said the city attorney is drafting a response to the FFRF complaint.
The foundation is the same group that challenged a statue of Jesus in a city park 13 years ago. Under a compromise, the city sold the statue and the small piece of land it sits on to a private foundation. Later, a federal judge ordered the city to build a four-foot high wrought-iron fence around the statue.