By MEBANE CITY COUNCIL MEMBER PATTY PHILIPPS,
COMMENTS MADE DURING JANUARY 3, 2022 MEBANE CITY COUNCIL MEETING
The summary of the current legal opinions related to public prayer at government meetings [from city attorney Lawson Brown and staff] provides a path forward that would allow the city of Mebane to continue with [its] tradition of an invocation at the beginning of the meeting, with a change to asking clergy to provide the prayer, rather than a council member.
If the majority of the council votes to proceed in that direction, I believe that we would be in compliance with existing legal guidance.
I am concerned, however, about the process for inviting clergy to participate.
Would council members issue the invitations on a rotating basis?
Would staff send out the invitations?
Would a statement be made prior to the invocation indicating which council member invited the clergy for that particular meeting?
My concern is that Mebane, like our country as a whole, is populated with people from many different faith backgrounds.
Would the invited clergy actually be representative of the local population, or would it skew toward a particular denomination?
Would anyone take issue with any of the invited clergy, considering their views contrary to their own?
There are dozens of churches in Mebane, and my belief is that the large variety of different churches is directly related to the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.
Many of the early immigrants to the US from Europe came here because their particular Christian denomination was being persecuted by another Christian denomination in their home country.
The Church of England persecuted the Puritans. Mennonites, Huguenots, Catholics and multiple varieties of Protestants were all victims of persecution, which was particularly savage in countries which had an official state religion.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1791 in the Bill of Rights, prevents the establishment of a state religion and provides for the free exercise of religion. This founding principle of our country allows people of all faiths to follow the teachings of their own faith community in peace. What a great blessing that has been for our country.
The courts of our country have interpreted this Constitutional provision in a manner which aims to prevent governmental bodies from imposing a specific form of faith observance.
As a reminder, The First Amendment of the US Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
We can comply with the Constitution and acknowledge the free exercise of religion in our meeting by providing a moment of silence during which citizens, staff and council alike may use this time in accordance with their own faith tradition or beliefs.
This is NOT a removal of prayer from the meeting.
It is an acknowledgment that in our country we should be permitted to pray, meditate or otherwise seek guidance in accordance with our own beliefs.
I will yield the floor now, but I want to formally state my preference for beginning our meetings with a moment of silence.