A Michigan County has made it clear to some senior citizens living there, that they are not allowed to pray before eating meals that are supplied with funding that comes in part from the federal government. Those who attend the daily meals at the Senior Center in Mid-Michigan were told by at least one County official at the center that they would likely lose their federal funding if they continued to say Grace before they ate. The warning was part of an official memo shared by County officials with seniors in attendance at the daily meals earlier this week.

Some of those seniors in attendance, including many with disabilities due to their age say they were shocked by the blunt thinly veiled threat. One elderly participant said they were threatened and told “if you continue to pray you know what will happen.” Those in attendance took that to mean that the food would be cut off if they continued to say Grace and thank God for their food. Some of those that attend the gatherings say they were told that because the food is paid for with federal money that saying a prayer before they eat ‘violates the separation of Church and state.’

As many as 40 people a day attend the meals and rely on the food to eat. “Without these meals these people have no other options,” said one person familiar with the story. In fact these people would have no other alternatives and would likely just go hungry without the program. One person close to the investigation said, “the fact is the government is making these old folks choose between their faith and their food.” It makes me sick to my stomach remarked a woman discussing the issue. This is ‘simply outrageous’ was the response from a number of people that were asked about the ongoing threats, possible intimidation and the idea of using food as a weapon to make people do as the government demanded.

A Michigan legal group is reviewing the facts of the matter but asked to remain anonymous at this time until they can “gather more information”. They told me they have left numerous messages with those at the senior center as well as those at state and federal agencies that are involved with supplying food to the elderly throughout Michigan. However the legal aid organization said it looks like a clear violation of the civil rights of the senior citizens that are participating in the meals; and say it  appears they are conducting prayers before eating on a voluntary basis. “This is not something that is being mandated by the senior center, this is something the people are doing because they want to,” said one of the attorneys. This does not violate federal law or the establishment clause “by any stretch of the imagination,” he added.

How on earth can Americans be told they can either eat or pray but they cannot do both in 2017? It seems the state is demanding they conduct themselves as atheists or be denied their basic needs as prescribed by law. How is that any different than the state dictating what religion you must follow? Why is it ok to violate their basic human rights if they want to say Grace?

I will keep you informed over the next couple of days as this case unfolds and we hopefully secure the memo that cites prayer as a violation the separation of church and state that started this entire conversation and put senior citizens in a position to choose between their dinner and their religion.