LAKELAND — The Lakeland City Commission is being challenged on its policy of beginning its meetings with prayer, part of an effort by a state atheist organization that is targeting the practice at other city councils in the region. City leaders cannot recall the practice ever being challenged before.
Additional pressure is coming from the leaders of Lakeland's Jewish synagogue, Temple Emanuel, who recently urged public boards in the county to be "completely nondenominational" when opening meetings with prayer.
At the Lakeland City Commission meeting March 1, EllenBeth Wachs, director of the Lakeland chapter of Atheists of Florida, and Rob Curry, executive director of Atheists of Florida, objected to the prayers, usually offered by a visiting cleric from the community.
"It sets me apart as different, and the Constitution clearly forbids this. … You are here to do the business of government. I ask you why you feel the need to start your business day with prayer," Wachs told commissioners.