To Houston realtor Kay Staley, religion and organized government mix about as well as tequila and jagermeister. That is to say, not very well. And so she has launched a federal lawsuit against the City of Houston and city council member Anne Clutterbuck in an attempt to sever the two incompatibles, asking the courts to keep prayer out of city council meetings.
Six years ago, Staley sued Harris County to get rid of a Bible displayed on a courthouse monument, claiming it was a constitutional violation. After three long-fought years in court, she prevailed and the Bible was removed.
Now she's turned her attention on city council meetings.
According to Staley's lawsuit, council members and religious folks who are sometimes invited to the meetings belt out a prayer at the beginning of each weekly session. In turn, claims Staley, she is "offended by the City's and individual Councilmember's promotion of religions."
Though most of the prayers offered at the meetings are Christian, Staley is equally offended by prayers of all faiths, including Mulsim or Hindu, says her attorney, Randall Kallinen.
"We're not singling out Christian prayer," he tells Hair Balls, "but any religious prayer where you are invoking separate super beings and deities and telling people to bow down and all that stuff."
In the lawsuit, Staley claims that when it is Clutterbuck's turn to publicly pray, she folds her hands, bows her head, closes her eyes and serves up the Lord's Prayer, which is found in the Bible.
"It's hard to argue that that's not a religious prayer," says Kallinen. "The courts make a big deal about who is making the prayer and Clutterbuck is an actual representative of the government and this is a public meeting, so that is more public involvement than if you just invite Sam the barber to do it. It makes it more likely to be a violation than if you just invited a member of the public to do it."
Staley also claims in her lawsuit that she is offended because Jesus himself was against this type of public prayer. Several quoted passages from the Bible, mostly from the books of Mark, Matthew and Luke, are included in the lawsuit to support her contention.
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"The prayers make [Staley] feel that she is not a full member of society and she is highly offended," the lawsuit states.
Kallinen says the case has a chance to make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court because there has been some disagreement about public prayer in the federal circuit courts that the Supremes may want to clear up.
Overall though, says Kallinen, "based upon my reading of the case law regarding prayer, it seems like [the city] does violate the separation of church and state."
Clutterbuck was not available this morning for comment but we will let you know if she gets back to us.