The suit was filed by Clint Harris, 42, on behalf of his 6-year-old daughter, who he said should not be forced to recite the prayer. "I am an atheist. I don't think atheists should be considered outsiders in the political community," Harris said. "Why would an atheist attend a religious service? It's obnoxious."
Harris's attorney, Richard D. Grossman, said the planned city ceremony, set for 11:45 a.m. Wednesday in Daley Plaza, "smacks of government endorsement of religion."
In siding with the city, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle Sr. noted the prayer is interdenominational and the ceremony itself is privately funded.
The city planned to make the mass reading of the "Chicago Prayer for Hope, Unity and Remembrance," written jointly by prominent religious leaders, the centerpiece of its observance. "In this way we will celebrate the values that are shared by the vast majority of the people of the world, regardless of their religious or political beliefs," Mayor Richard M. Daley said in announcing the plans last week. "And we will express our determination that these values must prevail over the forces of hatred and terrorism."
Atheist Rob Sherman said prayer should not be the main thrust of a city-endorsed event. "The city has put together a religious service," Sherman said. "We feel the government should put together secular events and should leave it to the churches to do religious events."
City attorneys noted the event, to be hosted by actor Gary Sinise, is being privately funded. In addition, they said, non-denominational prayers long have been accepted at public functions.
The suit said the city recruited religious leaders to put together a prayer and planned to force schoolchildren to "share in the observance." It said the ceremony "smacks of a Jacobinesque attempt to establish a civic religion."
Chicago is not the only city that planned interfaith memorials. Suburban Harvey is planning a unified prayer service to be led by Imam Wallace Deen Mohammed, leader of the 2-million-member Muslim American Society, the largest Muslim group in the United States.
Other cities including prayer in their official commemorations include Albany, N.Y.; Bethlehem, Pa.; Cherry Hill, N.J.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Kingsville, Texas; Little Rock, Ark; Orland Park and Waukegan, Ill.; Phoenix; Port St. Lucie and West Palm Beach, Fla.; Portage, Ind.; Union City, Calif.; Warick, R.I., and Warren, Ohio.