At least three groups or organizations have offered to step up financially should Rapid City get embroiled in a lawsuit over the prayers it holds before each council meeting.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit, has asked Rapid City twice to end prayers before meetings. The requests were prompted by a local complaint to the group; those requests include a thinly veiled threat of a lawsuit if prayers continue.
City Attorney Joel Landeen declined to name who, exactly, was offering financial aid, saying the information would become public if the city were sued and if the city created an agreement.
But a Freedom From Religion attorney is already warning Rapid City these groups may have dubious motives and are often more interested in advancing a particular cause — mixing government and religion — than looking out for the welfare of the city, particularly the city's finances.
"Rather than coming to some resolution, it tends to prolong litigation and may put the city on the hook for legal fees," Freedom From Religion staff attorney Patrick Elliott said.
Even if the local pro-prayer religious groups pay their own legal fees, they may not cover all the Freedom From Religion's legal fees, he said. Should the foundation prevail, the city could have to reimburse its legal fees, Elliott said.
Landeen said religious groups may want to fund such legal battles because they feel they have a stake in them. The result of one lawsuit can dramatically affect the precedent set for future lawsuits.
"They don't necessarily want to leave it up to the individual entity because they have an interest in it," Landeen said.