Last week Charlotte’s Mayor Roberts made the decision to end the long-standing tradition of starting the city council meetings with a prayer.
Last Monday night (9/18) she stated, “We are not going to have an invocation tonight. We are going to change the way that we conduct it on the expert advice of our attorney, with the concern over freedom of religion and separation of church and state and some other recent court rulings.”
The city attorney, however, denied giving her that advice.
Yesterday morning (9/25), the council’s committee on Governance and Accountability met to talk about whether prayer should be allowed at the start of public meetings.
The city attorney presented the committee with a lengthy presentation of current policies, recent case law, and legal commentary, and concluded that Charlotte has not been violating any laws by praying before their meetings.
“What the council is currently doing is OK,” noted City Attorney assistant Jason Kay, “It is perfectly constitutional.”
“The city attorney said that this particular practice if you avoided it, would be 100 percent safe,” Kay says. “That was interpreted as advice not to do the practice… I think there was some confusion on that but it has been cleared up now.”
The council then spent some time discussing whether or not they would continue with prayer and eventually voted to continue practicing the invocation and prayer at future meetings.
The city attorney provided some guidelines that he said should be followed to avoid any legal headaches in the future, including:
– Prayer should be directed to the council itself, not the audience.
– The public should not be asked to stand or join in.
– Invocation does not have to be religious, for example, moments of silence, or inspirational poetry.
– Council members should be able to choose if they want to participate or not.
– Prayers shouldn’t be delivered in a way that makes others feel that their beliefs are inferior.