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Pueblo councilman wants to keep prayer before meetings

Despite lawsuit threat, council member won't give up on meeting prayer

Council member wants to keep prayer at Pueblo meetings

PUEBLO, Colo. - After a lawsuit threat from an atheist group, the city of Pueblo said it would get rid of the opening prayer at council meetings. But one council member says it's the wrong plan.

Pueblo city leaders said they would replace the invocation with a moment of silence after receiving a letter earlier this month from watchdog group The Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"We may need to improve our process and adapt so we are in compliance, and I think that's important," said council member Chris Nicoll. "But I don't want to do away with it completely."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, said a local person contacted them about the council prayers.

"Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive," wrote Andrew Seidel, an attorney for the the group. "(Council members) do not need to worship on taxpayers' time."

In the last year, Pueblo has invited different religious leaders from the community to lead the opening prayer. City leaders said the invitation was extended to "every church in the phone book."

In his letter, Seidel noted that most of the meeting prayers have been Christian, and one prayer mentioned the Lord 22 times in 73 seconds.

"We request a prompt response in writing about what steps you are taking to respect the Establishment Clause and remedy these constitutional violations," wrote Seidel.

Nicoll said he believes an appropriate remedy is having a council member lead a non-denominational prayer.

"I think there's a happy medium there, a compromise," said Nicoll. "Where we can still be in compliance and still continue to have an invocation at the beginning of our meetings."

He said he also plans on proposing that council start saying an opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance at work sessions in addition to at regular meetings. Nicoll said he's already spoken to some other council members and they seem open to his ideas.

Community members had mixed feelings about prayer at city meetings.

"I think the city council should take care of business and leave prayer to church," said David Burdette. "There's a separation of church and state for a reason."

"My opinion is that prayer is good anytime and anyplace," said Rebbecca Brandt. "It's good to have that before they make decisions for the city."

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