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City Rejects Second Request To End Prayers

February 19, 2013, 6:16 PM by Derek Olson

City Rejects Second Request To End Prayers
RAPID CITY, SD -

The push to end prayers before Rapid City City council meetings continues. A group wanting the change sent a second letter to the city. It's the latest development of a controversy that could end up being settled in court.

Many supporters of continuing the prayers see the request as an attack on religious beliefs.  But those who oppose the prayer say it infringes on their rights to not have religion imposed on them by government.

City council meetings in Rapid City open with a prayer.  Despite two requests to stop from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the city has no plans to stop praying.

"The stakes are high because if they succeed in taking prayer out of our council meetings, then what happens to the state legislature?  What happens to the city of Sioux Falls?  What happens to all the other communities that have been doing prayer for decades?" Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker said.

The second request came after a handful of complaints about the city's response to the first letter, which includes the drafting of an ordinance to make prayers official city policy.  The mayor is a vocal supporter of the prayer.  He says the city is ready to defend itself in court.

"We've had several offers of pro bono support in case this ends up in court, and we would accept that support," Kooiker said.

While the community is predominately Christian, not everybody feels that the prayers should continue.

"That it's been going on for a long time doesn't have any bearing to whether or not it's right or wrong, but the longer that it does go on, the harder it's going to be to have a discussion on whether it's right or wrong," Rapid City engineering student Cole Bedford said.

As an atheist, Bedford says he's tolerant of other people's religious beliefs in most settings, but not as official city business.

"I think there are plenty of arenas where people can do that, but to do it at city council meetings where everyone is brought together just by being community members, to divide people along religious lines is pretty inappropriate," Bedford said.

An attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation said the only way for the city to avoid court is to stop the prayers.

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