The city of Augusta is limiting employee involvement in Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s monthly prayer breakfasts in response to threats of litigation from a Wisconsin-based group that champions the separation of church and state.
In a letter Thursday to Rebecca Markert, the attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Augusta general counsel Andrew MacKenzie said Copenhaver has agreed to have “private sponsors” organize, coordinate and promote the breakfasts.
The sponsors will take on duties now performed by Copenhaver’s executive assistant, Karyn Nixon. The city’s response to an earlier open-records request from the Freedom From Religion Foundation revealed that Nixon arranged the breakfasts by telephone and e-mail, sending 128 e-mails since November to arrange the first six breakfasts of this year.
The foundation argued that any city time or resources spent on the prayer breakfasts were unconstitutional.
MacKenzie cited an East Point, Ga., case in which the mayor used city money to pay for prayer breakfasts and distribute fliers promoting them. The court granted an injunction against using city money but allowed minimal use of city resources, such as personal telephone calls by employees related to the events.
MacKenzie’s letter further states that Copenhaver will continue to attend the monthly breakfasts, that his staff may voluntarily attend them on their own time and that the events will remain on the city Web site, listed as Community Prayer Breakfast.