The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog, sent a letter
yesterday to Rep. Mike Sheridan, speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, to
ask the Assembly to stop opening sessions with illegal prayers.
It's the third such request since June 2008. Earlier requests, to Sheridan and to Rep. Mike Huebsch, the previous speaker, have not received the courtesy of a response, nor have the Foundation's phone calls been returned.
"It is troubling that a year after our initial letter to the Assembly
about this unlawful practice, sectarian Christian prayers continue to
open sessions," wrote Foundation attorney Rebecca Kratz in today's
letter to Sheridan.
The Foundation reviewed the invocations (which are posted online at
Wisconsin Eye) from January-June 2009 and found six of the 15 prayers
ended "in Jesus' name" or some variation thereof. Two prayers quoted
from the bible and four made other references to Jesus Christ.
For example, on April 23, Rev. Lance Schneider of St. Dennis Catholic
Church in Madison ended his invocation with: "Bless us dear God, as you
bless John, and grant unto all of us the peace of your love. We ask
this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Six days later, Rep. Dan LeMahieu, an Assembly member, gave the
invocation, which included: "We just thank you for the reminder we had
several weeks ago of the Easter season, of the death of your son and
his rebirth, his resurrection."
"These prayers run afoul of the First Amendment because they
impermissibly advance Christianity and lead a reasonable observer to
believe that the Assembly is endorsing not only religion over
nonreligion but also Christianity over other faiths," Kratz wrote.
"Even the Wisconsin State Senate has taken an enlightened path and
adopted a policy that requires opening prayers to be nondenominational,
nonsectarian and nonproselytizing."
In her February 2009 letter to Sheridan, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie
Gaylor noted 15 of the 16 opening prayers from May 2007 to May 2008
were explicitly Christian and one had a "pseudo-exorcism" against the
The latest request asks for the Assembly to follow the Senate and adopt a policy of nonsectarian prayer.