For several years, the Sussex County Council opened its meetings with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer by a member of the council. Americans United wrote to the Sussex County Council in June 2008, and again in April 2009, explaining that the Constitution prohibits governmental bodies from opening their meetings with prayers that exclusively advance a single religion, and asking the Council to discontinue its practice. The County did not respond to either letter.
In June 2011, we filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of four Sussex County residents: Barbara Mullin, a member of the League of Women Voters; the Reverend John Steinbruck, a Lutheran minister; Julie Jackson, an indigenous-rights activist; and William O’Connor, a retired research psychologist. And in December 2011, we filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to prohibit the Council from opening meetings with sectarian prayers while the case was ongoing.
In May 2012, the district court granted our motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that the Council’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer “gives Christianity an unconstitutionally preferred status, sending a message to meeting attendees that the Council is promoting the beliefs of Christianity.” The court prohibited the Council from reciting the Lord’s Prayer at meetings during the pendency of the case. The court also directed the parties to attempt to settle the case with the assistance of a court-appointed magistrate.
After months of negotiations, the parties settled the lawsuit in September 2012. Under the terms of the settlement, the Council was prohibited from reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of its meetings.