Mayor Holds Sackloth and Ashes Rally in Repentance

Thu, May. 01 2008 04:05 PM ET

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Struggling to confront a worsening homicide rate, the mayor invited pastors and citizens to don burlap sacks and ashes in a sign of biblical repentance.

Mayor Larry Langford said his “sackcloth and ashes” rally April 25 was inspired by the Book of Jonah, where residents of the ancient city of Nineveh wore rough fabric and ashes as a sign of turning away from sin. More than 1,000 people attended at a local auditorium.

So far this year 27 people have been killed in Birmingham, compared to 19 at the same time last year.

Since he took office last year, Langford has held three prayer rallies to fight crime and violence. Bibles were handed out at one of the events.

“This city needs to humble itself,” Langford said.

Olivia Turner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama, said the group has received complaints about the events and has been discussing them.

“The worry I have is that there’s a government endorsement of religion,” said lawyer Bill Messer, a state ACLU board member. “Certainly, the mayor has a right like anyone else to express his personal religious beliefs. As mayor, acting on behalf of the city, religion should not become part of the government itself. If it’s an official government event, that’s troubling.”

Police Chief A.C. Roper, who is also a minister, supports the repentance rally, but said law enforcement cannot stop there.

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