News 12 at 6 o'clock, Thursday, July 12, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The city of Augusta could be headed for a legal showdown over the mayor's prayer breakfast. A national group says the mayor is violating the constitution. The city says "we respectfully disagree."
"This too shall pass," said Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation says the city must cease all sponsorship and organization of the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast.
"We live in a crazy world these days," said Copenhaver. "You have groups out there that are going to have a problem with anything."
The group takes issue with the mayor's prayer breakfast being highlighted on the city website.
"They are violating the constitution by having employees coordinating and organizing religious events," said Rebecca Markert who is an attorney with the Freedom from Religion Foundation."
The group says the issue centers around the mayor's assistant asking the public to RSVP to her city email address.
"The city has issued the appropriate response," said mayor Deke Copenhaver. "Legally, we are moving forward."
"Do you find this [response] satisfactory?" we asked Markert.
"No," said Markert. "They have not addressed whether city employees can be using city time and resources to organize inherently religious events like prayer breakfasts."
The city notes the mayor is a "largely ceremonial position" that is part of a "weak mayor form of government." They say the commission does not specifically appropriate funds for religious events.
"And so are you barking up the wrong tree?," we asked Markert.
"No," replied Markert. "Because the budget is still offered by the government."
The mayor is not backing down.
"Based on the opinion of the city attorney we are not violating any laws so we will continue to move forward," said Copenhaver. "Being mayor is what I do. My faith is who I am, and I feel very strong about that."
The foundation says this is all a result of a local complaint. They plan to consult with that person to determine their next step.