By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
January 21, 2022
An invocation could once again be a part of Mebane City Council meetings if the council decides on a new policy at its Feb. 14 meeting. Officials in the town, which lies on the border of Alamance and Orange counties, recently replaced their opening prayer with a moment of silence in response to legal threats from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Wisconsin-based organization, known for filing lawsuits attacking everything from the motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency to a Star of David on a Holocaust memorial, mailed Mebane a letter Nov. 5 calling prayer at government meetings “unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” and urging the town to discontinue it altogether.
So, in December, Mayor Ed Hooks announced that the council would change to a moment of silence “to show respect to all faiths, beliefs, and perspectives.” But after further consideration, input from the public and consultation with their attorney, the council voted unanimously this month to have staff draft a new prayer policy that would pass constitutional muster. It’s that draft that they’ll consider at their February meeting.
“At first glance, it appears to me that the Board’s new policy is on the right track. I am delighted to see the Board reconsidered and decided to repeal it’s previous decision to replace prayer with a moment of silence before their meetings. Perhaps a moment of silence would be appropriate when or if they can’t find clergy to provide the prayer,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “FFRF’s counsel to do away with prayer at government meetings is terrible advice and inconsistent with our nation’s long and rich religious heritage.”
Creech said that, contrary to FFRF claims, beginning a board meeting with prayer does not violate the First Amendment because it is in no way an “establishment of religion.”
“Such prayers are very similar to prayers preceding legislative sessions. They set a solemn tone for transacting government business, and they are completely consistent with historical support for religion in public life,” he added. “We have paid chaplains for the military, as well as state legislative chaplains. We have national holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. When we say the Pledge of Allegiance we say, ‘One nation, under God.’ We open our courts with, ‘God save the United States and this honorable court.’ Our national motto is ‘In God We Trust.’ Moreover, I think Americans have generally understood that the problems we face and the solutions we need are larger than ourselves. We need to acknowledge the Lord’s Sovereignty and seek his help.”
Mebane’s city attorney, Lawson Brown, provided parameters for a proposed prayer policy, basing his recommendations on prior court rulings in similar cases. He said the opportunity to offer an invocation must be open to all religions and that prayers should be given by invited clergy as opposed to council members. Brown said the invocation should be offered at the outset of the meeting to solemnize the work the council will take up at that sitting and that it should not be a proselytizing or coercive presentation. He further advised the board that any policy they adopt should make clear that attendees are free to leave the meeting during prayer and that no one would be treated differently based on how they respond to the invocation. Brown said that if the council adopts a policy, it must also adopt a procedure for choosing outside clergy to offer the prayers.
According to the Mebane Enterprise, several council members expressed confidence that the council can set up a workable policy and procedure for opening prayers.
“I’m confident that we can practice in a way that is legally acceptable,” Councilman Jonathan White told those in attendance at last month’s meeting, the Enterprise reported. “We will have some challenges in terms of how to do invitations, effectively, but I think some other cities have already proceeded in that direction, so we’ll be able to leverage some of what’s been done before.”