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In 2014, the Mayor's Community Prayer Breakfast was a big story, primarily because someone tipped off the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and our quaintly indefensible local ritual went national.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2014: Pesky church-state issues: The Freedom from Religion Foundation investigates the Mayor's Community Prayer Breakfast.
I'd dearly love to take credit for being the snitch, but alas, it wasn't me. However, the furor alerted me to the existence of the FFRF, which the Baylor household promptly joined, and renewed just last week.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2014: "Government officials can worship, pray, and participate in religious events in their personal capacities. But they are not permitted to provide credibility or prestige to their religion by lending a government office and government title to religious events."
In retrospect, City Hall's reaction to the FFRF's scrutiny (even the News and Tribune got in on the fun, for once) was a precursor to the scene just before the League of Women Voters "debate" in 2015, with the mayor trotting out Linda Moeller to explain that the prayer breakfast doesn't actually occur on the taxpayers' dime because people like her are able to separate time on the clock from time off it, and never mind the location at a public high school because we factor in the gas and electricity, or something like that.
As Jeff wrote:
The space used for planning meetings is publicly funded. Having a meeting at 7 a.m. doesn't change that. The same is true of the event space. The City's marketing is easy enough to see as well. Normally, a group would have to pay or otherwise provide those things via private means. In this case, the citizens of New Albany are paying for them.
In the aftermath of last year's down home camp meeting, the mayor was sufficiently flummoxed to omit the very mention of the reason for rising so early.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2014: The Mayor's Minute, missing words: "I had a wonderful time at the 46th annual mayor's breakfast last Saturday."
No community, no prayer -- just pancakes and delightful company. In 2015, the prayer breakfast was yesterday. The city spent less time (an money?) proselytizing the event, but what I wrote last year remains true.
The real core answer here is that we do it the way we do it because no one's ever thought about what it would mean to do it differently -- this as well as so many other examples of peculiar institutions existing in a vacuum outside the realm of modernity.
The more things (don't) change ...