Monday, November 28, 2022

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Mebane city council adopts new policy, 4-1, to allow clergy to pray at council meetings

Mebane’s city council adopted a new policy Monday night that will allow local members of the clergy to deliver the invocation at their monthly city council meetings.

The council had instructed city attorney Lawson Brown to draft a potential policy for the council’s consideration that would pass muster with a precedent set in a case from Rowan County (Lund vs. Rowan County) decided by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. The council voted unanimously to give Brown those instructions at its January meeting.

The version of Brown’s suggested policy, as adopted by the council Monday night, can be viewed HERE.

The prayer issue arose following mayor Ed Hooks initial decision, announced in December, to eliminate the tradition of having council members deliver the invocation and replace it with a Moment of Silence.

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Hooks made the decision based on input from Brown based on the threat of litigation from an anti-religious group in Wisconsin, which challenged the Mebane council’s approach to having an invocation at its meetings.  Brown had advised Hooks that the council’s practice of having council members – typically either Hooks or councilman Tim Bradley – saying the prayer violated the legal standards of the Rowan County case.

Hooks’ action was taken with no prior notice, and council members ultimately decided a month later they wanted to find a way to preserve the tradition of allowing an invocation to open their meetings.  Brown had outlined that allowing local clergy members to deliver an invocation would be a legal method to continue an invocation at their outset of their meetings.

In brief comments Monday night, Brown said that the new policy would allow a rotation among clergy members for a “nonproselytizying prayer” at the outset of the council meeting.

Questioned about the inclusion of a provision allowing clergy members from outside of Mebane to pray at a council meeting, Brown noted that such clergy would be invited if a member of their group or congregation from within Mebane made a request to the city to include that clergy person.  Brown explained that he had modeled the Mebane policy on that used by the Town of Greece in New York, which was at the center of one prayer challenge that had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During Monday night’s meeting, council member Patty Philipps reiterated her view that a moment of silence was the preferred approach to an invocation, terming it the “most inclusive” approach for an opening prayer.  Philipps was the only council member to oppose the adoption of the new prayer policy, which passed on a 4-1 vote.

In an interview after the meeting, Philipps said while she had been a part of the unanimous vote in January to instruct Brown to come up with a new prayer policy, she had decided the moment of silence was the best method and would oppose the re-introduction of a formal invocation.

Resident Matt Engwall, 117 Holly Ridge Lane, also spoke, before the council voted, in favor of maintaining the moment of silence.


See previous Alamance News coverage on the prayer issue below:

DECEMBER 2021 :

Mebane mayor scraps council’s opening prayer in face of threat from Wisconsin atheist group; will substitute ‘moment of silence’: https://alamancenews.com/mebane-mayor-scraps-councils-opening-prayer-in-face-of-threat-from-wisconsin-atheist-group-will-substitute-moment-of-silence/

EDITORIAL PAGE OPINION on scrapping prayer in Mebane, Religion ambushed in Mebane:  https://alamancenews.com/religion-ambushed-in-mebane/

 

JANUARY 2022:

Mebane city council looks for a way to keep prayer at its meetings, asks attorney to draft ordinance: https://alamancenews.com/mebane-council-reverses-mayor-asks-for-new-policy-allowing-prayer-not-just-moment-of-silence/

Principles to be incorporated in new prayer policy, according to city’s attorney: https://alamancenews.com/principles-for-new-policy-on-prayer-as-recommended-by-mebane-city-attorney-lawson-brown/

OP ED: Moment of Silence is more appropriate (by Mebane city council member Patty Philipps): https://alamancenews.com/how-best-to-start-mebane-council-meetings-moment-of-silence-or-prayer-patty-philipps-with-moment-of-silence/

OP ED: Public prayer has a long, constitutionally-protected history (by Mebane resident David White): https://alamancenews.com/how-best-to-start-mebane-council-meetings-moment-of-silence-or-prayer-david-white-public-prayer-is-appropriate/

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