CAPE CORAL, Fla. - A national organization is asking the Cape Coral City Council to stop praying before meetings. They call it "unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive." But, officials say they have no plans to change what they've been doing for years.
"Invocation" is the first item on each agenda. Some Council members recite their own prayers, and others pause for a moment of silence.
"I firmly believe that I would like to have some oversight in what I believe is my Heavenly Father to help us make the right decisions, to help us do the right things for our citizens," Councilman Kevin McGrail said.
In the 23 years he's been here, McGrail said meetings have included prayer. "If it's truly offensive, we say the invocation first, and the Pledge of Allegiance second. Walk in the door after they are both complete."
But, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation says some taxpayers oppose the invocation. They claim the government doesn't have the power to pray, the Constitution separates state and church, and, it's unnecessary.
The foundation sent a letter to Mayor John Sullivan and City Council back in August. After no response, they sent another letter last week urging officials to end scheduled prayers at meetings. "If the people on the City Council want to pray, they are perfectly able to pray before they go into the chambers," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel said. "They are elected to complete the secular business on running the city, state, country, not running a Sunday school."
Dale and Jo Ann Mason say they believe in God, but think prayer should be left outside council chambers. "We don't think religion should ever be mixed with government, including schools or anything where people have definite religious beliefs unless everybody is included," Dale Mason said.
Others don't mind. "This is America, so I think that everybody has the right to their beliefs and to their religion," Katherine Korytkowski said.
"To me, it's fine. It's perfectly fine," Layla Viernes said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation also opposed the proposal to display the Ten Commandments at City Hall. If the city doesn't respond to their letters, they could potentially file a lawsuit.
In 2010, some council members suggested replacing the opening prayer with a neutral "moment of silence." That was later dismissed.