|Christian rights groups rally
in defense of commissioners’ prayers
Friday, December 14, 2007
DELAWARE —?News that the Delaware County commissioners are being
asked to stop using sectarian prayers during their public meetings
has spread to the ears of Christian Rights advocacy groups locally
Two such groups, The Ohio Christian Alliance and the Alliance
Defense Fund, are now rallying to the commissioners’ cause in
defense of the prayers. One of the groups is offering to represent
the county in court free of charge should the matter move into
“Instead of bowing to these radical demands, we are encouraging the
commissioners to stand up for this most cherished American
tradition,” said Michael Johnson, senior legal counsel for the
Alliance Defense Fund, a coalition of attorneys nationwide that
advocates for freedom of religious expression.
The Alliance Defense Fund on Thursday sent a letter to the
commissioners saying that their use of prayers during meetings is,
in fact, legal. The letter includes a written policy the group says
the commissioners can use to conduct prayers legally. The letter
also includes an offer by Johnson to defend the policy free of
charge should the commissioners face any legal challenge to it.
“We strongly believe this policy will pass constitutional muster,”
Johnson told the Gazette Thursday.
The Alliance Defense Fund’s letter to the county comes in response
to another letter the commissioners received earlier this week from
Washington D.C. based Americans United for Separation of Church and
State. That letter urged the commissioners to consider eliminating
prayers during their public meetings.The organization contends that
the prayers conducted by Delaware County Commissioner Glenn Evans
are sectarian because they often include a reference to Jesus
Christ. Such prayers may alienate non-Christians and be in conflict
with Supreme Court rulings, the organization’s “senior litigation
counsel” Alex J. Luchenitser said.
Johnson said similar letters from Americans United for Separation of
Church and State have been received by dozens of other governmental
boards across the country this year, most recently in Akron, Ohio.
Johnson said The Alliance Defense Fund has been responding to those
letters in turn, advising the various communities that prayers
during public meetings are protected under the constitution.
“We are telling the communities that this radical organization’s
demands are not grounded in law and that prayer is legal,” Johnson
That includes sectarian prayer, he said. “The Supreme Court has
acknowledged prayer and it is deeply impeded in the history of this
country,” he said.
Meanwhile, the commissioners continue to hold prayer during their
meetings while they await a legal opinion on the issue from Delaware
County Prosecutor Dave Yost. Evans led Thursday’s commissioner
meeting with a prayer that included “Your good, loving Father, we
thank you for this day that you’ve blessed us with.”
Although Yost said he is reviewing relevant case law out of due
diligence before advising the commissioners further, he said he
feels comfortable that the prayers are legal. The Supreme Court has
previously upheld prayer in public meetings and references to a
particular faith does not reverse those rulings, he said.
Evans, a member of the Harlem Road United Methodist Church, in
Galena, has said his prayers are not intended to alienate
non-Christians, but to seek guidance in the board’s decisions.
Delaware County Commissioners Jim Ward and Kris Jordan said they are
supportive of Evans’ prayers.