The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that a publicly funded senior citizens facility in North Carolina cease its prayerfulness.
A concerned area resident contacted FFRF to let it know that the Morehead City, N.C.-based Leon Mann Jr. Enrichment Center, a public facility operated and managed by the Carteret County Senior Services Department, is conducting prayers at meals each day. Reportedly, a former preacher who attends the center leads everyone in prayer, and those who don’t wish to participate are made to leave the room.
Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding from engaging in religious activities at government-sponsored functions such as senior lunches, FFRF emphasizes. The Leon Mann Jr. Enrichment Center receives funding from the federal government in the form of Social Services Block Grants. That’s why the center must adhere to federal regulations. This means that it cannot engage in “inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization,” to quote the Code of Federal Regulations, an explicit and unequivocal prohibition of religious activities. Prayer is an inherently religious activity. Therefore, allowing, promoting or encouraging prayer at these government-subsidized activities places the center in direct violation of the federal mandate.
“It is inappropriate for government employees to lead others in prayer or encourage others to engage in prayer in any way, “FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to Beth Simpson, director of aging services.” It is even more inappropriate for government employees to coerce or compel such prayer. Government employees, acting in their official capacities as public servants, cannot actively endorse, prefer, or promote religion.”
Not only does the imposition of public prayer at these meals cause concern that the government is endorsing religion, it violates the rights of citizens to be free from religious proselytizing. “At a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise,” the U.S. Supreme Court has stated. The center’s support of public prayer during these meals ignores the rights of other seniors who may not wish to participate in the religious activities because they disagree with a particular faith publicly exercised, who may prefer to be private in their worship or who do not believe at all. And it certainly is disrespectful and inappropriate for the center to serve as a forum for some seniors to impose their religious beliefs on others in attendance.
That’s why FFRF insists that the Leon Mann Jr. Enrichment Center immediately discontinue organizing, endorsing or facilitating prayers and asking for others to join in those prayers or leave the room.
“It’s unacceptable that a governmental facility is forcing religion on senior citizens accessing essential services,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Vulnerable individuals should not have religion imposed on them or else be made to feel like outsiders.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national organization with 29,000 nonreligious members and chapters all over the country, including hundreds of members and the Triangle Freethought Society in North Carolina. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.