City seeks pastors’ help on meeting prayer issue

Beginning June 2, religious leaders from various faiths will pray before Salisbury City Council meetings, in a move spearheaded by City Council President Jake Day.

Day said he was prompted to start inviting pastors after the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding prayer prior to government meetings.

The first pastor will be the Rev. Ryan Weaver of Remedy Church in Salisbury.

In the past, council members the audience recited The Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, but stopped the practice. Day, who’s been on the council about one year, said he reviewed minutes and learned they voted unanimously to invite religious leaders to offer invocations, “but they simply never did it.”

“I think that was intentional. I don’t mean to project, but if you read the minutes, the discussion was, virtually all council members declared they did not believe prayer had a place in a public setting,” he said.

The Supreme Court disagreed, and so does he.

“Obviously, I respect everyone’s freedom of religion. I respect the fact of separation of our government and state, that they are designed to be separate, but I think regardless of who you pray to, whether you pray at all or if you take advantage of a moment of silence, it helps to ground you and help you focus. In good spirit, all of those things can happen independently of who is saying what prayer,” he said.

He wants the council to have the benefit of leaders from a variety of religions, including Christian ministers, rabbis and imams “from every single area church, all religious institutions and temples.”

He said he will work with the city clerk to invite them to lead prayer.

Day said he decided to take action because of the Supreme Court decision “but also because it’s something that has been on my radar.”

“It was important to do something and I was interested in doing it anyway. The Supreme Court decision affected the speed at which I addressed this issue,” he said.

Mayor Jim Ireton said this week that having prayer before meetings is the council president’s decision and that having all beliefs represented “is a very good idea.” He said he usually prays before meetings.

Day said he won’t ask pastors or religious leaders to pray a certain way, or use language that encompasses every belief, because it’s not his place.

“If we have an imam in there, or a leader of the Hindu temple, I am not going to pray any differently in my heart. Should they pray any differently or bend the prayer in their in hearts? I don’t think so,” Day said.

Members of the Supreme Court, on April 28, supported praying before government meetings and stated it is constitutional, in fact ingrained in the fiber of American, even if prayers are strongly Christian, as long as no religion is insulted and nobody is forced to believe in a particular way.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that prayer “has long endured” and “become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable court’ at the opening of this court’s sessions.”

Day said he doesn’t expect any disapproval from fellow council members, or confrontation. He has shared his plan with some council members, and said he is certain fellow Councilwoman Shanie Shields is supportive. She has said she would like to see prayer before meetings.

“The decision has already been made. The council voted unanimously, but they just never followed up on it,” Day said.

“We’ve done everything over the past 12 months that I’ve been there as a team. I really don’t believe will be major issue. If there is, I will stand my ground,” he said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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