Lakeland mayor to bring up city prayer issue following supreme court ruling

LAKELAND, Fla. - Lakeland's mayor is considering a proposal to hold a prayer after the city officially opens its meetings following Monday's ruling by the nation's highest court.

For decades, the city used to open with a prayer but then in response to a 2010 lawsuit city officials decided to hold the prayer roughly a minute earlier before it officially opened the meeting.

The United States Supreme Court ruled that this "tradition" across the country is constitutional.

"It's totally not fair," said EllenBeth Wachs, who filed the lawsuit in 2010 on behalf of her group, Atheists of Florida. "They're basing this ruling on the fact that this is a tradition in this country, and the fact that this is a tradition in this country doesn't necessarily make that a good thing."

Wachs said she understands the community's deep religious roots but doesn't get the need to single out certain believes with a prayer during a public meeting.

"You know what, a satanist should be able to get up there and give a satanic ritual prayer. An atheist should be able to get up there and give a poem," she said.

Now that the highest court has spoken, Mayor Howard Wiggs wants to go back to the old way.

"I think we make a statement and we reaffirm that we want it to be part of the city commission meeting," he said.

The executive pastor of one of the largest churches in town, Victory Church, said the ruling is a long time coming.

"We see it as not only tradition, but we see it as foundational. We see it as part of a core of who we are as a people," Dan McBride said.

Wachs just hopes people from all religions and beliefs get the same opportunity.

"It gives a sense of superiority to the Christian religion and whoever is practicing that," she said.

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