The Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union fired off a letter to the Jackson mayor and Town Council about a new prayer at the summer rodeo, saying it’s illegal.

On Monday, the Jackson Town Council formally approved a prayer for next summer’s rodeo that does not refer to Jesus or the Bible. Last summer, rodeo prayers had Christian references and offended some people.

“However, including any prayer – whether or not sectarian – in a town-sponsored event raises serious concerns under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” stated the ACLU’s letter, which was dated Monday.

Bob McLaurin, Jackson town manager, said the Town Council and Mayor Mark Barron have not yet met to discuss the letter.

The ACLU’s letter cites court rulings from about a dozen cases throughout the country that determined government cannot favor one religion over another, or favor religion over nonreligion.

“Rodeo-goers head to the fairgrounds to watch rodeo, not to be led in prayer,” the letter states. “It is unfair for the town to place spectators in the uncomfortable position of having to choose whether to pray, make their faith or absence of faith an issue by choosing not to participate in prayer, or leave and miss out on the government-sponsored rodeo.”

Linda Burt, executive director of the ACLU in Wyoming, doesn’t expect her organization to take the town to court.

“I think the city council has been very attentive and responsive to that,” she said. “I’m certain they’ll do the right thing. It’s been clear that’s what they want to do. We’re not looking at any further problems with that.”

Rodeo prayers became an issue after Teton County received a complaint about them.

The town owns the fairgrounds, but the Teton County Fair Board manages them and Teton County uses the space for the county fair and other programs, said Roxanne DeVries Robinson, assistant town manager.

The town contracts with Phil Wilson and WW Productions to put on the Jackson Hole Rodeo on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summertime.

“Since the issue has come up, we’ve gotten some additional emails for and against,” Robinson said.

In the fall, when the Town Council reviewed its agreement with Wilson and WW Productions, councilmen took on the issue of prayer. They added to the contract the following language: “Should the Concessionaire choose to conduct a prayer at the beginning of each rodeo, the prayer shall be non-sectarian.”

Wilson submitted to the Town Council a script for a prayer, drafted with the help of a pastor.

Previously, there had never been a script or instructions on how to pray, Robinson said.

The ACLU of Wyoming didn’t write the letter on behalf of a specific complaint it had received from anyone, Burt said.

There are legal ways to be observant that don’t involve the government promoting faith.

For example, Gov. Matt Mead has asked Wyomingites to observe a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. Friday to honor the Connecticut school shooting victims.

“The moment of silence is certainly secular in the sense that everyone is free to do whatever they want in that moment of silence and there’s not necessarily a religious connotation,” Burt said.

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

(23) comments

WyoJeff
WyoJeff

People need to actually read the constitution. It is freedom OF religion not freedom from religion. Some of the first people to come to america came here so they could practice their own religion. If you don't like hearing someone pray, tuff, get over it. If they want to pray based on another religion, I would be ok with that as well. This polital correctness is getting out of hand. we can't even say merry christmas without someone getting their panties in a bunch.

Cowboy Joe

I think many would like the rodeo to be free OF religion. Freedom of Religion doesn't give one the right to pray over a PA subjecting others to one's faith. Keep religion where it should be in private, in one's church---not at public events on public property.

WyoJeff
WyoJeff

So does that also hold true to your freedom OF speech. Maybe someone might not like your comments on this board and you should just keep them private and not on a PUBLIC forum. What is the difference? Both are first amendment rights. Personally, I'm glad you posted because I respect your rights. I wish you would respect others rights as well.

Cowboy Joe

I do respect other's rights and appreciate the dialogue with you, however I don't need to here someone else praying over the PA system at a public event on public property. Yes someone has the right to stand a pray on the town square, but government isn't obligated to provide one person with a microphone but not everyone else, that is showing favortism to one form of speech which government shouldn't do. Private personal speech is proteced so is worship and prayer, would you be as adamant about defending these rights if the rodeo brought in a Muslim Cleric and asked to pray to Allah, a Hindi, the Flying Spaghetti Monster etc...Don't act like someone's rights are being denied. What if someone wanted to use the PA to describe their sexual fantasies would that be free speech that should be protected?

brianvmax

So you are saying you would be ok with it if it wasnt over the pa? Would it be ok if they just said they are having a moment of silence? The point is a few people or a couple of people, how ever you want to word it are complaining of something that has been done for years, its time the old majority rules comes back into play, what would happen if majority complained they did not have a prayer? would the aclu still get involved?

WyoJeff
WyoJeff

My first post said, "If they want to pray based on another religion, I would be ok with that as well." In fact if most of the cowboys were Muslim, I would expect them to throw down rugs and face Mecca. More power to them. So if it is the PA you have a problem with then you must be against those who pretest on the steps of any public building. You must believe in freedom FROM speech as well. it sounds like we both believe that one tribe should not stop another tribe from killing an eagle as part of their religion. The only difference is I can't get a permit as I am denied that same right, but I'm still in favor of the others free exercise of their rights. For those who say a prayer or speaks their mind, I believe they paid for that building just as much as you have. They own just as much as you own. The only caveat is those exercising their right must follow the laws while doing so.

Cowboy Joe

Yes, ultimately giving a public PA system over for prayer is getting too close to the town endorsing a religion. If they give one prayer than everyone should stand up there, and recite their views on the beginnings of the universe, morality, who the Prophet is... Jesus?, no Muhammad?, no wait he's not here yet? etc...is there a god? or Two? Maybe none?---it's a rodeo---get on with the show, if I wanted a sermon I'd go to church. Individuals should have complete freedom of speech and religion in our society but at public events on public grounds its too problematic. I don't believe in Freedom From Speech as you imply---it is my duty to walk away, change the channel or otherwise avoid someone saying or doing something I don't like to hear or see, but the critical piece here is that this a public rodeo arena and the audience is "captured" if you will as this is the only place in town to catch the event. It is comparable to how speech may at times be limited in public schools, it's a captive audience and the only place to get a free education. Say whatever you want provided people have an opportunity to avoid you if they so choose, do whatever you want as long as you don't harm another---those are my ultimate views on life, but don't subjegate everyone to one religious view at public events.

Rawhide

Bahaha...COWBOY JOE....that's ONE cowboy that won't be missed a the rodeo....FOOLS like him is what's becoming wrong with this country...COMMIE BASTARD....

Grouchy
Grouchy

Cowboy Joe Just where do you come from. Bet it ain't from Jackson. If you don't like the PA system prayer, then don't attend the event. Stay home in you own little world or return to where you came from. The United States of America was founded on the belief in GOD. If you cannot tolerate that then GET GONE.

Cowboy Joe

Exactly what is commie in my statements or thoughts? Like all too many in our society some revert to name calling as they lack substance to add to a discussion and what they do add is typically misunderstood rhetoric revealing only a parrot that squawks without knowledge. That is America's true problem

Grouchy
Grouchy

No cowboy joe you are definitely wrong. Although I would not refer to you as a "Commie Bastard" I will still stand by, If you don't like it here in the United States of America that was founded on freedom of religion. then GET THE HELL out. Go to some other country where religion is either suppressed or forced. See how your views are treated someplace else. It is that simple.
And please change you name from cowboy joe. You do not deserve to use the University Of Wyoming for your idiotic rants and raves.

IN GOD WE TRUST

Panhead

Grouchy, So you are saying that because I don't believe in god that I need to get the hell out. I think your interpetation of the first ammendment is flawed. I have no intention of leaving my home, (born and raised in Wyoming) and I can guaranty you I believe in my country every bit as much as you, maybe more. I served my time in Vietnam and vote in every election. I don't necessarily agree about not praying in a public forum as I believe in freedom of religion, I do not feel that anyone is shoving anything down my throat because I am comfortable in my own skin. Unlike some posters here. But I do resent a rant that has no merit telling me to get the hell out because I don't believe in your god.

Panhead

Grouchy, I think he will have to stop using the name Cowboy Joe as I think it's trademarked, although it's kind of appropriate, have you read the crap that comes out of Laramie.

nckwfan

So the gov't should not sponsor or be part of a religious speech. I guess that's what I'm reading. Interesting that congress begins it's sessions with prayer.

Cowboy Joe

Then why is school prayer banned? I'm all for freedom-America was founded by folks who didn't want government cramming religion down ones throat--worship as you please I'll keep my state and country thanks. I hate when people are so insecure they feel they have to get public confirmation of their superstitions.

WyoJeff
WyoJeff

Cowboy Joe if you weren't so pissed about hearing a prayer in school you might have heard the teacher talk about why people came to America in the first place. The founders wanted to be able to practice any religion they wanted to. They did not want the government only allowing one religion in the country. I still say if you want freedom FROM religion then we should get freedom FROM your speech. If you want to change or limit our rights, you should have to give up yours. Why do you think freedom OF religion is the very first thing addressed in the bill of rights?

supercalifragilistic

Perhaps now is the time for america to look at the real problem(s).

COLUMBINE STUDENT'S FATHER 12 YEARS LATER !!
Guess our national leaders didn't expect this. On Thursday, Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee. What he said to our national leaders during this special session of Congress was painfully truthful.

They were not prepared for what he was to say, nor was it received well. It needs to be heard by every parent, every teacher, every politician, every sociologist, every psychologist, and every so-called expert! These courageous words spoken by Darrell Scott are powerful, penetrating, and deeply personal. There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness.. The following is a portion of the transcript:
"Since the dawn of creation there has been both good & evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers.

"The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used.. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart.

"In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA - because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death.

Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel's murder I would be their strongest opponent.

I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy -- it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.

Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You've stripped away our heritage,
You've outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question "Why?"
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand,
That God is what we need!

"Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact. What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. And when something as terrible as Columbine's tragedy occurs -- politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that contribute to erode away our personal and private liberties. We do not need more restrictive laws. Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre. The real villain lies within our own hearts.

"As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America , and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him. To those of you who would point your finger at the NRA -- I give to you a sincere challenge.. Dare to examine your own heart before casting the first stone!

My daughter's death will not be in vain! The young people of this country will not allow that to happen!"

- Darrell Scott

Grouchy
Grouchy

supercalifragilistic EXCELLENT. These are words from someone who has gone through the most difficult situation ever and has come out with a perspective that is both correct as well as proper. I feel that he is absolutely correct in what he is saying.

Those of you who were raised in the 50's understand what he is saying. We were raised in a different time and method. We were responsible for our actions and if we screwed up we were held accountable. That is now gone. There is no more accountability for children's actions. Parents feel that their rights have been violated if someone corrects their child.

Look around, go to restaurants, on planes, on the street, everywhere. The morals and disciplines that were taught to us is no longer happening. WHY Because our protective government say we cannot discipline our children. Most of you that are over the age of 60 remember what was in store for you when you got home from school after getting in trouble.

Integrity and intelligences starts at HOME. Parents get off your lazy a**es and take care of your kids. Teach them the right way and correct the wrong way. This is the only way that this country will survive.

Bring GOD back into your homes, community, and especially your country. The belief in GOD is what started this great society and up until recently HE is the one that has kept us the greatest nation that this world has ever seen. The erosion of peoples belief in GOD and practicing one's own religion is the down fall of the United States Of America.

Thank you Darrell Scott for sharing your views. Let those who have not felt the heart break you have withstood take heed in your words.

Cowboy Joe

Personal private prayer is protected at school, rodeos, street corners and the like. What the issue is whether or not it should be over the microphone subjecting all in attendance to one particular person's religious views.

supercalifragilistic

Howdy Joe, I believe these are one in the same: Prayer is Prayer, whether on rodeo grounds microphones or class rooms. Either way, collections of folks (young or older) are still there.

supercalifragilistic

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IdrahaJe

Cowboy Joe,

Have you ever been to a rodeo? Do you know anyone that is active in the PRCA? How many world champions that are in the Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs do you know? Did you watch any of the NFR? Your answers to these questions is important. You replied that "I think many would like the rodeo to be free OF religion." You can think anything you like, but that does not automatically mean that you are correct in your thinking.

Rodeo, along with other sports, has inherent Risks. Things can happen in a Rodeo that may injure or end the life of a participant. For years, it has been customary to pray before a rodeo, or a game. Your take on the situation is that you interpret the 1st Amendment one way. Others may interpret it another way. Again

IdrahaJe

sorry, accidentally hit the send button.

You and others think that because you are offended by some words, that no one should be allowed to say them ever again in a sporting event, graduation, or anything else. I respect your right to your opinion. BUT, what about this? What if I, and most of the rest of the people do not mind hearing, or in the case of a rodeo, look forward to hearing a prayer for the contestants?

What happens when those of us that do not mind prayer are offended by the fact that others want us to stop doing something that we have done at these types of events since the birth of the nation? Surely, if a prayer at a public event was so awful, so heinous, and so offensive, the courts and government would have put a stop to them years ago, wouldn't they? So why didn't they?

CJ, you wrote "subjecting others to one's faith. Keep religion where it should be in private, in one's church---not at public events on public property." Okay, now I am trying very hard to stay civil, but that statement is a little over the top. A 30-90 second prayer is not going to destroy anyone, ever. By that standard, we could ban every idiotic automobile insurance commercial, or any other type of speech we do not like. I hear things every day that are offensive, but I am not going to try to make them stop talking.

Are you so fragile that a short prayer is going to ruin your experience at a sporting, or other public event? I hope the answer to that is no. Really though. Are some of us so delicate, and in danger of having some sort of physical or mental breakdown that we can't just ignore a prayer the same way we ignore every other thing we hear that we do not like? Really?

CJ, I believe you when you write "I do respect other's rights and appreciate the dialogue with you", but then you say in the same post " the Flying Spaghetti Monster etc...Don't act like someone's rights are being denied. What if someone wanted to use the PA to describe their sexual fantasies would that be free speech that should be protected?" Do you really think that a short prayer is equal to someone describing a sexual fantasy? I know you are smarter than that, or at least I hope you are.

You then go on to write " Like all too many in our society some revert to name calling as they lack substance to add to a discussion and what they do add is typically misunderstood rhetoric revealing only a parrot that squawks without knowledge". Careful, my friend. When you write things such as:"-America was founded by folks who didn't want government cramming religion down ones throat", you appear to be using the same type of over exaggeration that name calling can be compared to. A simple prayer is not, in any way, an attempt to cram religion down your throat.

It would seem that maybe you have the same problem of lack of substance that you accuse others of having. A short prayer is not an attempt to "cram religion down your throat" Please, lets back off of the absurd over reactions. If a short and simple prayer is so offensive, so damaging, so life changing that you dare never hear one again, how in the WORLD do you survive in the world CJ??

We all hear things that we do not like, or vehemently disagree with often. That is not going to change. What do you do during commercials, the news, or anything else? Try this on for size, CJ: Live, AND let live.Do during a prayer what you do during an ad, or a commercial on tv, radio, or a pop-up ad on the computer. Let it go in one ear and out the other. To imply that a prayer is going to be so devastating to someone's psyche is outlandish, because every day, we hear things we don't like.

Unless you plan on living in a bubble, a glass jar, or walking around with earplugs in your ears and a bag over your head, you WILL be offended, everyday, by something that someone says. Are you going to try to tell them that they cannot say something that you may not like, or may offend you? Until THAT day, let it go. Until we make society into robots that always do what we want them to do, or say what we want them to say, then offended we will be. But we will also be free. You said that you were in favor of freedom.

Prove it. Stop acting like a 30 second prayer is going to somehow change the destiny of your life. Because to do anything less would imply that you are incapable of seeing, hearing, or experiencing anything that might be, in the very least nit, offensive.

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