Trouble in Troy

Padma Kuppa, a local Hindu resident of Troy, Michigan, challenges her exclusion from the town’s National Day of Prayer observance.

Case Excerpt

The full case is comprised of an (A) Case, a (B) Case, and additional content.

By 2004, the National Day of Prayer observance had become something of a tradition in Troy, Michigan. For the past ten years, it was held on the steps of City Hall; since 2001, this area has been known as “Veterans’ Plaza.” Each year, the local coordinator requested a resolution from the City Council allowing for the observance of the National Day of Prayer -- and for permission to display a large banner on the columns of City Hall. The City pitched in for the event: staff offered practical assistance and loaned sound systems, microphones, podiums and chairs. The Mayor and City Council attended the observance and often offered remarks. But in May 2004, the Mayor turned the microphone over to a Troy resident named Padma Kuppa, and for the first time, a Hindu voice was heard at the city’s observance of the National Day of Prayer. 

Until then, the event was presumptively -- if not officially -- Christian. The planners, the speakers, and the prayers had all been Christian. As Kuppa’s prayers “Om shanti…” echoed across Veterans’ Plaza, some believed that the Day of Prayer observance had become more representative of Troy, Michigan’s second most diverse city. To others, including Troy’s National Day of Prayer Coordinator, Lori Wagner, the forced inclusion of prayers from another faith altered the spirit of the event. Amidst the differences of opinion, one thing seemed clear: the National Day of Prayer in Troy would never be the same again.

Discussion Questions

1. Under what circumstances, if any, is it appropriate for a government entity to endorse or participate in the National Day of Prayer? Or in other public prayer events?

2. Was the mayor right to include Padma Kuppa, as a representative of the Hindu tradition, in the National Day of Prayer in Troy? Why or why not? How should the mayor evaluate requests to participate in the National Day of Prayer?

3. How might Padma Kuppa approach participation in next year’s National Day of Prayer?

4. What is the National Day of Prayer? What sources might you use to find out more information about this event? After researching it, what did you learn about its founding, mission, and affiliation? Does this information about the event change your perspective on the above questions?


Additional Content

Lori Wagner's Letter to the Editor

Thomas More Law Center Article

Troy City Attorney Memo