Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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How best to start Mebane council meetings: moment of silence or prayer? David White: Public Prayer is Appropriate




My purpose tonight is not simply to speak on the propriety of opening these council meetings in prayer, although I would strongly urge you to consider how appropriate it is that public prayers would be made here, asking that God would give all of you wisdom and clarity as you seek to make best and wisest decisions you can for the city of Mebane.

Public prayer is a very appropriate way to begin these meetings.

But rather, I’d like to speak for just a few moments on some of the legal aspects of this issue.

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I appreciate the work that [city attorney Lawson Brown] has done in researching the relevant Circuit Court and Supreme Court cases that apply to this issue and putting out some guidelines of how a policy of public prayer can be established.

Let me spend just a moment pointing out something the Supreme Court emphasized heavily in its 2014 decision in Town of Greece vs. Galloway.

Not only did that decision declare that prayer before city council meetings is legal – it emphasized that even sectarian prayers, expressing the religious beliefs of the clergy member who is praying, are also allowable.

Some of the prayers given in the Town of Greece were prayed in the name of Jesus and called for the workings of the Holy Spirit. The Supreme Court found no fault with that.

In fact, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, pointed out that prayers before legislative sessions of the US Congress have been made “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and have sought the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In fact, it’s striking that, in the Supreme Court decision which is 19 pages long, Justice Kennedy spends 8 and a half pages making this very point. As long as the prayers of clergy members do not “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion,” the court found that those prayers (whatever religion they may represent) to be both permissible and also perfectly in keeping with the long tradition of sectarian legislative prayer in our nation.

So I would simply like to urge you, council members, that as you draw up guidelines for prayer in this chamber, do not thing that you are legally obligated to required clergy members to pray non-sectarian prayers, as if the only God welcome in this room is a vague, non-specific, generic God.

The Supreme Court said that our government “acknowledges our growing diversity, not by forbidding sectarian content, but by welcoming ministers of many creeds.”

If this council does the same thing, you will be on very firm legal footing.

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