The “prayer vigil” – dealing with state/church issues locally

As most of you probably know, the Sheriff’s department in Itasca County sent a letter out ostensibly from the department’s chaplain (who knew they had a chaplain?). The letter was on official letterhead and gave the clear impression that the “vigil” was sponsored by the Sheriff. TheĀ “prayer vigil” was to be held on November 21st at the courthouse and was scheduled to last 24 hrs. The praying was to “benefit” the law enforcement, fire department and medical first responders in the community. What benefits were to be received was a bit vague.

Since sponsorship by the Sheriff would constitute a state/church violation of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, I contacted FFRF and provided them with a copy of the letter. They wrote to the Sheriff and other county officials advising them of the problem and requesting that the vigil be cancelled and the chaplain position be abandoned.

Nathan Bergstedt who was still with the newspaper did some interviews including the County Administrator in plans for publishing an article on the situation. He also interviewed me as a representative of GRAF. While there was plenty of time for the paper to publish the article about this prior to the 21st, the article never appeared, until this Wednesday, the 2nd of December.

The article was a bit late and out of date since the vigil either did not occur or was moved to some undisclosed location. Several GRAF members drove past the courthouse on the morning of the 21st and saw no evidence of any vigil although the street was partially blocked off and various equipment that might have been used was setup on the sidewalk and street. There were no signs indicating what happened with the planned vigil.

So, chalk one up for the county abiding by the requirements of the first amendment. Give the Herald Review a D- for waiting so long to publish “news” and neglecting to find out what happened. The community was left to wonder if the vigil was held, whether the county had responded to the FFRF letter and requests, etc.

One thought on “The “prayer vigil” – dealing with state/church issues locally

  1. I just read the article, and despite its tardy publication, thought it made an excellent contribution to our educational mission. It puts religious people on notice that not everyone in this community shares their religious opinions…that our government places constitutional limits on state-church issues…and that first amendment watchdogs will take action if needed. Thank you, Ken, for your willingness to represent this view, and for doing so in an articulate and respectful manner. Our reputation in the community benefits from this as well (at least, among reasonable readers).

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