Wednesday, September 20, 2000

ACLU sues over Day of Prayer

Using courthouse went too far, group claims

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The American Civil Liberties Union sued Hamilton County Commissioners Tuesday, claiming they went too far when they conducted a National Day of Prayer on the steps of the county courthouse May 4.

        The lawsuit, filed in federal District Court in Cincinnati, seeks an injunction to prevent county officials from organizing or engaging in similar events in the future.

        Scott Greenwood, lawyer for the ACLU, said the service the commissioners conducted was a violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from endorsing or promoting a particular faith, or religion in general.

        “They have held prayer day observances before, but this time they went too far when the commissioners used public property as a forum to further a religious cause,” Mr. Greenwood said.

        He said commissioners encouraged passers-by to join in.

        “This amounted to a worship service conducted by county commissioners on the courthouse steps. This was a textbook viola tion of the First Amendment.”

        Mr. Greenwood said the ACLU had warned the commissioners that they were in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

        Mr. Greenwood and attorney Steven Felson held a press conference on the courthouse steps, where Commissioners Bob Bedinghaus and John Dowlin defended their actions.

        “I am astonished that the ACLU would file such a lawsuit,” Mr. Dowlin said. “We need more prayer for individuals and the nations.”

        Mr. Dowlin said he started the local observance of the National Day of Prayer by county commissioners about five years ago on the courthouse steps.

        Mr. Bedinghaus said he was proud of the fact that he invited people to worship God. He criticized the ACLU for fighting for the rights of “hatemongers to gather in public places, but are opposing the rights of people of faith to gather in prayer.”

        “This is a fight by ACLU that is unnecessary,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “This is the kind of action by the ACLU that is costly to taxpayers.”

        Both commissioners said they will fight the lawsuit. Commissioner Thomas Neyer could not be reached.


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