Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

FFRF’s ‘Night of Prayer’ case to get hearing in Kentucky

Vol. 36 No. 04 May 2019
This screenshot from a video by WKYT shows inmates and jail employees at the Laurel County Correctional Center.                                                                                                                     

FFRF’s litigation to protect government transparency and the separation of church and state in Kentucky will carry on a little longer.

FFRF, which sued the Laurel County Correctional Center in 2018 for intentional evasion of the Kentucky Open Records Act after inquiring into its “Night of Prayer,” had asked for attorney fees, costs and statutory penalties.

In April, Laurel County Circuit Judge Kent Hendrickson signed an order asking instead for an evidentiary hearing. He indicated that there was not enough evidence in the record to prove that the jail acted “wilfully” when it withheld public records from FFRF — at least not yet.

The legal challenge was prompted by a “Night of Prayer” at the jail in August 2017, during which Laurel County Jailer Jamie Mosley invited Christian clergy to lead community members in prayer to supposedly rid the county of drugs and crime. During the event, inmates were taken from their cells and were prayed upon by the crowd. Attendees also formed a “prayer chain” throughout every floor of the facility, praying over inmates in their cells.

FFRF sent Mosley an open records request in October 2017 seeking records related to the planning and promotion of the “Night of Prayer.” After Mosley denied the lion’s share of the records request, FFRF reached out to Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear for an advisory opinion on lack of compliance with the Open Records Act. Beshear issued a formal opinion on Dec. 21, 2017, essentially stating that Mosley had violated the act numerous ways.

Under the Open Records Act, an attorney general’s opinion has the force and effect of law after 30 days. FFRF sued on Jan. 29, 2018, to enforce the opinion, seeking a declaratory judgment stating that Mosley had violated the Open Records Act and asking that the court award reasonable costs and attorney’s fees.

“We’re confident that we will prevail in this protracted tug-of-war with the jail,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Co-President. “The ‘Night of Prayer’ at this jail, involving hands-on proselytizing of a literally captive audience of prisoners, was inappropriate and should not have happened.”

FFRF is grateful for the tireless advocacy on its behalf by Michele Henry and Aaron Bentley of Craig Henry, PLC, who represent FFRF in this case.