Local government meetings typically begin with a prayer, but could a case before the Supreme Court Wednesday change that? Justices heard arguments about prayers that were said at council meetings in a small New York town. A federal appeals court said the prayers violated the constitution because they were mostly based in Christianity. This case has us taking a closer look at how things are done in our backyard.
Before Dothan commissioners get down to city business, they start their meetings with a prayer. City Manager Mike West said it's a part of the city's tradition and they welcome all faiths leaders a chance to give the invocation. "We have a rotating list of ministers from all religions and different faiths. We've had the rabbi and many denominations come and pray. Anyone who wants to pray can get on that list,” explained West.
The same can be said about the invocation at the Houston County Commission Meetings. Chairman Mark Culver said they open their meetings with a prayer and there are occasions where the person leading the prayer is not of Christian faith. Culver said with 24 meetings a year it can sometimes be challenging to get different faith based clergymen to lead the invocation. "We have to get the church leaders that can come in the time frame we have. Obviously, the greatest number of churches in this community is Christian Churches."
Despite Wednesday’s Supreme Court case Culver said prayer should always start every county commission meeting. "As long as I'm chairman, we will have prayer before meetings. I think it's important that we have this option. We know there are some who may be offended by the prayer, but they're encouraged to step out of our meetings,” continued Culver.
Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith of Temple Emanu-El in Dothan said a moment of silence is a more appropriate way to start a public meeting. "When you end a prayer in Jesus name or if you talk about the salvation of Jesus in the prayer and there are people in the audience who are not Christians, they're going to feel excluded.Perhaps a moment of silence would be appropriate. That way we all can pray in our own way."
The last time the Supreme Court considered an issue of legislative prayer was 30 years ago. The Supreme Court has not indicated how it will rule in this case and it could be months before a decision is made.