SALISBURY — With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prayer before government meetings is Constitutional earlier this month, the Salisbury City Council has agreed to return to a prayer policy of inviting various denominations to give a blessing at the beginning of meetings.
The council has tried the policy before without much success after dropping the Lord’s Prayer as the sole benediction back in 2011. Meetings have opened with a moment of silence since that time.
Council President Jake Day brought the matter up Monday, directly referencing the Supreme Court decision. The court ruled 5-4 that prayer before government meetings was Constitutional as long as members of the audience were not coerced to participate and an attempt was made to include diverse faiths.
Day referenced how the city handled prayer at government meetings before doing away with it in 2011 in favor of a moment of silence.
“At that time, it was decided that council would bring in a number of the clergy of any of the religious institutions in the city, or in the community, not limited to the city,” said Day, who was not on the council at the time but did go over the minutes for that meeting.
But that new, more inclusive policy only lasted for one or two meetings.
“I assume that the reason it was only done a couple of times was that it was hard to get somebody to come out,” Day remarked.
With the Supreme Court giving municipal governments the proverbial thumbs up, Day suggested that the council resurrect the prayer policy and begin sending out invitations to religious institutions within the Salisbury community. During times when a faith leader cannot be found, the council also entertained the idea of having citizens submit their own words of inspiration or personal benedictions that could be read before the Pledge of Allegiance.
Councilwoman Shanie Shields was onboard with restarting the process, saying that she doubted anyone would find a pre-meeting prayer offensive.
“We never had anyone complain about the Lord’s Prayer verbally. They may have said it to individuals but publically no one came to that podium and said any word, since I’ve been attending the meetings for 10 years, saying they objected to the Lord’s Prayer,” said Shields. “And if no one objected to the Lord’s Prayer, how would they object to something non-denominational or a poem or something?”
In the same vein, Shields was of the opinion that people should understand that the country was founded with religious, specifically Christian, leanings and that the Lord’s Prayer really wasn’t a problem even when that was the only benediction offered before council meetings.
“I’m not a born again Christian or anything but our country, we talk about patriotism and all of that, our country was founded on Christianity. And I look at other countries that have other religions and they don’t change their religion,” Shields told the council. “So if I move into their community, they’re going to practice their religion in their meetings and everything. They’re not going to change it because I would be offended. It’s called respect of the mainstream, this is the United States of America and yes we’re a melting pot but when you come over here you have to respect the religion that’s being practiced, to me, in the country.”
Just because people did not complain publically, however, does not mean that they weren’t offended when the council exclusively opened with the Lord’s Prayer, pointed out Councilwoman Laura Mitchell. She told Shields that at least a few residents had spoken or sent messages privately complaining about feeling excluded when the council only offered the Lord’s Prayer.
Luckily, that shouldn’t be an issue with the current prayer policy, said Day.
The council agreed to try to establish a dialogue with local faith leaders to bring in different prayers in the spirit of inclusivity. Day said last week that he plans on making sure everyone gets a chance to be represented.
“My plan is to ask leaders of every religious institution in Salisbury to participate in a rotating plan to lead the council in prayer,” he said at the time.
In addition, the council also agreed to be open to inspirational words submitted by residents that could be read prior to beginning meetings. These could be things like poems, personal prayers or just solemn messages meant to encourage reflection. If no faith leaders or inspirational words are available before a meeting, there will still be at least a moment of silence.
Councilman Tim Spies also asked that the Pledge of Allegiance be given extra consideration as he has noticed that people seem to be stuck just going through the motions that they learned as kids when it is spoken before council meetings.
“I would encourage everyone when they say the pledge to think about that night outside of Fort McHenry and to think about what we’ve lost, and think about what we’ve gained and think about what people have spent to bring us where we are today,” he said.