The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Michael B. Coleman has been sponsoring and hosting an Interfaith Prayer Luncheon for the past 13 years and using city resources to sell tickets and promote it. Last week he got a letter from the Freedom of Religion Foundation letting him know that the luncheon violated the law. He decided to not to get a legal opinion from the city legal department but in his speech at the event he doubled down on violating the law.
“First, I believe in the almighty God our father,” the mayor proclaimed to applause and cheers from the about 600 people gathered in the Aladdin Shrine Center for the event. “Second, I believe that we should be doing God’s work here on earth, and I believe in thanking God for bestowing our city with his blessings.”
Coleman used this year’s event to ask churches and community groups to help recruit 20,000 volunteers to help the poor and afflicted over 18 days ending on Sept. 11. Attendees were given sign-up cards as they left the luncheon.
“That’s what I want Columbus to be remembered for in this bicentennial year, what we do for the weakest among us,” the mayor said.
I really don’t care if Coleman is a religious man and if he wants to go to prayer luncheons as Mayor. The problem is he is hosting and promoting this prayer luncheon with city resources. The 1st Amendment doesn’t allow a government, and Coleman is an agent of the government, to favor the religious in action or by using tax dollars as this event did. This wasn’t a cheerleading event that happened to include some religious elements – this was a religious event promoted by the Mayor and City of Columbus.
It is a shame because several years ago Mayor Coleman was one of the few Mayors to issue a proclamation honoring Darwin Day and the need for rational thinking in this country. He has also been a huge supporter of the LGBT community.
I would have hoped for more understanding of the concern from the Mayor rather than pandering to a common bias against freedom from religion.
Here is a screencap from the city website promoting the event: