The Mobile City Council met for a regular meeting Tuesday and opened with a prayer following criticism from LGBTQ+ activists the week prior.

Pastor Joe Johnson, from Mt. Hebron Church Ministries, led the invocation on June 20, asking God to bless the city's leaders and their decisions.

But the pre-council prayer has been under the microscope since a citizen raised concerns during the June 13 meeting.

Elizabeth Luther spoke to the council, asking for a time limit for pre-council prayer. She requested pastor Travis Johnson’s June 6 prayer asking for God’s guidance. Travis spoke each council member’s name while asking city leaders to make decisions honoring the Lord. He also prayed for children in Mobile.

“So, Lord, on this point I pause and especially pray for the protection of the children of Mobile who are inundated and targeted by harmful agendas and social media from peers,” he prayed. “At times in our schools, times in our libraries, and at times in our city parks. I pray that you would put a hedge of protection around them and guard them from ideologies that have zeroed in on them at their youngest and most innocent ages, with sexualized merchandising, conversation and interactions. Lord, give us wisdom as we consider how to best govern all of our citizens while protecting the most innocent among us. Lord, bless our leaders in this respect.”

Reactions from those in attendance at the June 6 council meeting were mixed. One citizen raised her hands in the council chamber, praising the Lord during the prayer. The prayer ended, and citizens clapped, proclaiming, “Hallelujah.”

But watching online, Luther said she was disturbed by the prayer.

“The Bible’s been used to justify a lot of hate and things that have happened through the decades,” said Luther. “That’s how the Klu Klux Klan became who they are.”

Luther said she felt the LGBTQ community was being targeted. She asked the council to keep prayers short, sweet and appropriate.

Mobile City Council president C.J. Small told Luther the council would investigate the issue.

On June 16, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent Small a letter claiming the six-minute prayer violated the Constitution.

"We write to request that the city council refrain from opening meetings with prayer and instead solemnize meetings with the more inclusive practice of observing a moment of silence," the letter stated. "If you must open with an invocation we ask that you ensure that there is a diversity of views represented, and that at minimum the person giving the invocation does not use the endorsement given to them by the city council to attack minority members of the community.

"Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive. The best solution is to discontinue invocations altogether. All city council members and Mobile citizens are of course, free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. However, they do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time. The city council ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion by scheduling, hosting or conducting governmental prayers."

The FFRF asked Small to reply in writing about steps being taken to resolve the matter. The full letter can be read below.

The city is hosting the “Alabama Queer Town Hall” on Thursday, June 22. The panel discussion and conversation will be moderated by the city’s LGBTQ liaisons, Natalie Fox and Michael Tyner. The event at the Innovation Portal will begin at 5 p.m.

Mobile, AL - City Council Prayer by Erica Thomas on Scribd

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