April 20, 2011 Mayor Jim Richards Commissioners Ruth Kussard, Paul Hannan, Tony Holden, and Ty Miller Town

Attorney Derek Schroth 409 Fennell Boulevard Lady Lake, Florida 32159 Re: Prayer at Lady Lake Town Commission Meetings Ladies and Gentlemen: In response to my letter to you dated March 7, 2011, the Lady Lake Town Commission reconsidered its practice of beginning its meetings with an official public prayer. Your practice previously had been to invite exclusively Christian clergy to deliver Christian prayers, which resulted in the perception that Christianity was endorsed by the town as its officially preferred and promoted religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted in its decision in Pelphrey v. Cobb County, Ca., 547 F.3d 1263 (11th Cir. 2008) (upholding the particular legislative prayer practice at issue in that case), the Constitution requires that a local government, if it chooses to offer an invocation before its meetings, must invite a variety of speakers to do so to ensure that it not “advance any particular faith” in violation of the Establishment Clause. The town involved in the Pelphrey case, for example, had invited Muslim, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist speakers in addition to Christians. Having opened up the role of beginning meetings with an appropriate solemnizing speech to private citizens, the Lady Lake Town Commission cannot discriminate against any citizen who would like to perform the role previously performed solely by Christian clergy in offering an invocation on the basis of the religious views of such citizen without violating the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech rights (and Pelphrey).1


The Lady Lake Town Commission has, by opening up a time slot at the beginning of its meetings to private citizens (such as the Christian clergy and Jewish rabbi previously invited) to offer a short speech solemnizing the opening of the legislative meeting, created a “designated public forum” for private speech. It would be a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment for the town to refuse to permit any speaker to offer an invocation (or appropriately solemn and topical secular speech) because of the particular religious views of that speaker. This would amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. See e.g. Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 828-30 (1995) and Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance v. Pryor, 110 F. 3d 1543, 1548 (11th Cir. 1997). Such discrimination would also of course be a violation of the Establishment Clause under


I have been informed that a rabbi was invited to deliver a prayer before the commission’s meeting on March 21, 2011, marking the first time that a non-Christian undertook this role. Although it appears that the town may have decided to change course and cease violating the Pelphrey decision in response to our letter by beginning to diversify your invocation speakers, we will remain vigilant and continue to monitor your activities to ensure that you do not revert to promoting Christianity through your invocation practices in violation of the Constitution. I note with concern that the agendas for the two regular meetings that followed the March 21, 2011, meeting indicate that it was at each a Christian clergy member who was chosen to offer the invocation.


William J. Burgess Appignani Humanist Legal Center American Humanist Association

Pelphrey, which rested on permitting a variety of invocation speakers to avoid a finding that a legislative prayer practice promoted any one religious view.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful