LEAGUE CITY — A Plano-based nonprofit law firm has stepped in to offer the city council help in writing a policy regarding prayer at meetings and free legal help in case of a lawsuit.
The Liberty Institute has offered to help leaders in League City craft an invocation policy that will protect the city’s practice of prayer at council meetings while avoiding mistakes made by other municipalities.
League City’s practice of opening council meetings with a prayer became a hot topic after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, sent a letter to Mayor Tim Paulissen asking that the city stop.
The foundation said one of its League City members asked for help. The foundation requested that the city stop a practice that was “coercive and beyond the authority of any government.”
Paulissen has said he had no plans to change the city’s practice. After the story broke, the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm that regularly takes up religious issues, reached out to help, Paulissen said.
Paulissen said that, as far as he could tell, the city does not have a written policy on the invocation. He said he is hoping representatives from the institute will give a presentation to the city council at its Aug. 13 meeting to talk about crafting a policy. The discussion also would include the possibility of free legal aid in case of a lawsuit.
The Liberty Institute, started in 1972, has been involved in a range of cases. The institute has tangled with the Freedom From Religion Foundation before and has battled with the ACLU over a cross on Mt. Soledad in California. It was also involved in the case of the Kountze school district cheerleaders who displayed religious messages on banners at football games.
According to the group’s website, it is “committed to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in schools, churches, and throughout the public arena.”
Michael Berry, an attorney with the institute, said the group has worked on invocation policies for municipalities across the country. The issue of prayer at council meetings is expected to come before the U.S. Supreme Court next year in the case of Galloway v. Town of Greece.
In general, Berry said, the institute recommends a policy where the invocation cannot be used in a disparaging manner or used to coerce listeners into changing their faith. The person giving the prayer can’t be paid, and the offer to say the invocation should be open to the community, he said.
The city can send out an invitation to religious groups — representing all faiths — and have them sign up to give an invocation if they are interested, Berry said.
The institute typically provides free legal help and will represent clients in courts. But Berry said he hoped “that any policy (League City) adopts would withstand judicial scrutiny and that it wouldn’t have to get to that.”