Prayer before meetings sparks controversy

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PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. - The short prayer that the mayor of Peachtree City offers prior to every city council meeting is under attack by an atheists organization that claims it shows bias toward Christians.

"An invocation is permitted before a City Council meeting, but it cannot specifically be aimed at a particular religion or creed. And 'Our Heavenly Father' does cross the line," said Al Stefanelli, state director of American Atheists, Inc.

Stefanelli showed Channel 2's Tom Regan a letter he sent last week to Mayor Don Haddix and Peachtree City Council members. It said references to a male supreme being caters to Christian believers at the exclusions of other faiths, including Hindus and Buddists.

The mayor disagrees.

"I have probably one of the most generic prayers you will ever hear from any official," said Haddix.

Haddix said references to "father" is found in other religions and is symbolic of authority. He said he is opposed to the suggestion that citizens of various religions being allowed to open council meeting with their own invocation.

"The places where they allowed people to bring in their invocations always resulted in confusion. And people not wanting to say any prayer, which is exactly what the atheists want," said Haddix.

Stefanelli said he's not opposed to prayer before council meetings, as long as it does not exclude other faiths.

"I have no issue with personal beliefs. My wife goes to church every Sunday. We're not fighting against religion. We're fighting for the Constitution," said Stefanelli.