AIKEN --- A challenge to the city of Aiken's use of prayer before council meetings has led a Bath church to call Aiken Christians to action by holding a prayer rally before tonight's meeting.
Lakeside Baptist Church will play host to the 6 p.m. rally, where people will pray for city leaders and sing worship songs, the Rev. Tad Marshall said.
The city administrator's office received an eight-page letter at the end of June from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Madison, Wis., that investigates what it considers violations of the separation of church and state.
Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the foundation, submitted the letter to city council on behalf of an Aiken resident and labeled the city's prayer unnecessary at a secular meeting. The group said council also violates a Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against government-sponsored prayers that are sectarian, denominational and invoke a particular faith or deity.
During a July meeting, 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.
Assistant City Administrator Richard Pearce said council will proceed with a prayer during tonight's meeting. Council members have also been given a list of generic prayers, he said.
Marshall said that he hoped today's event wasn't just Lakeside Baptist members' stance on the issue but that all churches would support council in its decision to "exercise their right to freedom of religion."
"We don't want to be the silent majority about the matter and somebody needs to say something," Marshall said.
He said he expects Cavanaugh and city council members to join the rally before the meeting.