Backers show up in force to Aiken prayer rally

A large crowd turned out in Aiken Monday night

AIKEN -- Christians spilled into The Alley and lobby of the Aiken municipal building Monday night after showing up in force to support keeping prayer public in government meetings.


The crowd was estimated between 500 and 700 people, with passers-by drifting among the masses in The Alley to see what was happening.

Lakeside Baptist Church, of Bath, played host to the rally. The city had received an eight-page letter in June from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Madison, Wis., labeling the city's prayer unnecessary at a secular meeting

The group said Aiken City Council also violates a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against government-sponsored prayers that are sectarian, denominational and invoke a particular faith or deity.

Oran Smith, of the South Carolina affiliate of Focus on the Family, said the rally wasn't about the right to say "Jesus at every meeting," but making sure that state law was followed and that those wanting to pray didn't lose their opportunity.

During a meeting in July, Mayor Fred Cavanaugh opted for a moment of silence until the city's legal staff investigated the claim. Council members voted unanimously to keep prayers before meetings.

Cheri Reese, a member of the Aiken Church of Christ, said she was glad the congregation of Lakeside Baptist stepped up to the plate to get people interested in the issue.

"I signed a petition, but that takes no effort at all. It's shown me that we really need to get more involved. It'll make us all better Christians," she said.

Mary and Michael Kaplan, of Aiken, were among the residents who've followed the issue in the news, but attended the rally by chance during an evening walk downtown. The couple said the federal and even state law was constructed so it didn't purposefully prefer one religion, and it should be interpreted as such.

"If people start going beyond what the law states, that's where it becomes easy to continue to skew that line," Michael Kaplan said.