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Council to discuss prayer
Members of Monroe's Common Council stand at the beginning of their Feb. 5 meeting for a prayer, read by Ward 4 Alderman Jan Lefevre. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - The Monroe Common Council is prepared to take up the issue of prayer before its meetings in response to a complaint from the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Monroe Mayor Bill Ross intends to introduce a letter from FFRF and begin discussion on the issue at the council meeting Wednesday, Feb. 20. Agenda wording has the council poised to take action if necessary.

Last month, the city received a letter signed by Patrick Elliot, an attorney representing the foundation, in which the organization presented its objection to "the prayers that open Common Council meetings," prayers that it understood to be "pervasively Christian." The matter was brought to the FFRF by "a concerned Monroe resident with necessary business before the council," according to the letter.

Since about 2006, Alderman Jan Lefevre has recited the prayers. The prayers typically ask for guidance as the council conducts its business and occasionally references Jesus Christ.

Lefevre said there was "never an issue with the prayers until the FFRF" got involved.

"I believe P.C. (political correctness) is what's destroying our country," she said. "Freedom From Religion Foundation does not want any mention of religion."

Lefevre said she would have "no problem if any religious organization wants to bring a prayer for us" to read before a meeting. She also said, as she understands the legal issue, "as long as it is before the meeting and not on the agenda, we could do it."

Oral prayers have been recited before Monroe council meetings for as long as some people can remember. Jerry Ellefson and Nate Klassy, two retired department heads, found it difficult to recall a council meeting without one. Klassy was hired in 1961, and Ellefson in 1969.

Ten years ago, when Ross was mayor, the city was forced to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a city park. Ross recalled the city moving the monument in 2002, and on Monday said it was moved because of the time, energy and money it would have cost the city to fight the FFRF. He said the city got no complaints from residents about moving the monument .

"In fact, we got a lot of 'atta, boys' for moving it to the YMCA," he said. "People thought it was an appropriate place."

In 2002, Reid Stangel was director of the YMCA; today, he sits on the city council.

"Well, I appreciate the prayer," he said. "It's outside the meeting, though, I know, it appears close (to the meeting). But I view it as an open time when people can gather in public.

"I hope we can continue the prayer," he added. "Or do something else or something in addition."

The Monroe Common Council meet at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the city hall.