The King City Council unanimously agreed Monday night to table a proposed prayer policy after hearing comments from the public.
“This is something that has been presented to us to take a look at,” said Councilman Brian Carico. “Nothing more and nothing less. It is not issuing a certain prayer policy that will affect how this council will handle its meetings. It is just something to look at and see if there is value there. We want to make sure we review our options and then make an informed decision.”
Carico noted that there were several cases involving prayer at public meetings making their way through various courts currently.
“I think we have one option among many that we can look at,” agreed Councilman Wesley Carter. “I don’t think there is any reason to rush into this. I think we need to see what the courts say about other types of prayer policies.”
Before deciding to table the proposed prayer policy, which would have set up system through which recognized organized religious groups within the city and its territorial jurisdiction could ask to provide an opening invocation at city council meetings, the council heard from a number of residents speaking for and against the policy.
Pastor David Keaton encouraged the council to continue to have prayers at meetings.
“Don’t give in,” he said. “We lost our flag and it is not coming back, but I am not going to forget it. If we can’t seek the faith of God for his good help then everything else is in vain. We can’t make it without God. It seems like everything is going the other way in the name of equality, but our nation was founded on religious liberty and freedom. They got away from tyranny, but the devil is trying to put us back under it.”
Julienne Ratcliff agreed, going so far as to offer to help raise funds for the city to defend its right to prayer.
“I am a Christian and am very proud to be a Christian,” she said. “We should get together and protest the way we are treated here. This country is under God and we must never forget it. If we do the devil will come in and help himself as he has already done in this city.”
Walnut Cove resident Buddy Timm warned the council to not get trapped in a prayer policy.
“Do not get trapped in a public policy that limits your freedom of speech,” he said. “You are in charge of what you have at your meetings.”
Paula Calloway said the issue, which started after Steven Hewett made a request for a prayer policy, was a waste of the council’s time.
“At this point what this individual is doing should be considered harassment,” she said. “Harassment of this council and the City of King. It is a waste of the council’s time and waste of our tax payers money. Where will it stop?”
Darrell Calloway said he would support a prayer policy if it allowed representatives from brick-and-mortar churches from within the city to provide invocations at council meetings.
“They have put money into this community,” he said. “They are part of this community. Why can’t we just keep it simple. If you live in the City of King and you have a brick-and-mortar church and their congregation works in the community and they have a sizable congregation then let them come in and pray. Only the people who have invested their time in this community should have the right to do that.”
But Hewett argued that such a practice would, by definition, exclude those of other faiths.
“Currently there are no mosques, synagogues, temples or non-religious assemblies that are within the limits being imposed,” he said. “This would disenfranchise citizens who worship elsewhere, who attend non-Christian assemblies or those who don’t attend any form of religious meeting but would wish to give an invocation of some type.
“The council is again attempting to exclude anyone other than Christians since the city is majority Christian and only Christian churches reside within the limits being imposed,” he added. “It does not appear you have learned anything over the last five years with the Veterans Memorial lawsuit. Instead of being an inclusive form of government as Councilman Wesley Carter had stated in January you are doing everything within your power to exclude and treat citizens who do not fit your religious model as second-class citizens.”
He suggested the council adopt a policy of having a moment of silence before starting a meeting and allowing all who wished to to pray to whatever god they chose, or enjoy a moment of meditation or reflection.
“This council should respect the views of all of its citizens, not just those whose religious beliefs align with yours or the majority,” he said.
Hewett also presented the council with a letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation Attorney Patrick Elliott, which raised similar concerns about the proposed prayer policy.
“We urge you to concentrate on civil matters and leave religion to the private conscience of each individual by ending the practice of hosting prayers at your meetings,” wrote Elliott. “At the very least, the Council must not implement an invocation policy that will be used to discriminate against atheists or other citizens who wish to share an invocation message.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.