A three-person committee assembled to explore the future of prayer prior to Galloway Township Council meetings has narrowed the possibilities down to three, and may have a final answer for the next council meeting, Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola said during the council meeting on Dec. 11.
The three options Coppola mentioned include:
1. moving the meeting directly from the flag salute directly into the meeting, skipping any kind of moment of silence or prayer options;
2. continuing with the moment of silence, as it has taken place over the last few months; and
3. having a designated chaplain read a pre-approved prayer prior to the meeting.
The township recently eliminated the practice of having a pastor from a local religious organization give an invocation prior to the start of each meeting.
The township has always held a moment of silence before the start of each meeting, and that practice has continued.
The committee consists of Coppola, Councilwoman Whitney Ullman and Councilman Jim McElwee.
Coppola cited the case of Marsh vs. Chambers during his committee report Tuesday night.
In 1983, Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers filed a lawsuit against the state, namely Treasurer Frank Marsh, in federal court, stating the legislature’s practice of holding a prayer prior to the beginning of legislative sessions violated the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court ruled that government funding for chaplains is constitutional because of the country’s “unique history.”
Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the topic, however, there was some confusion, as the district court found that prayer didn’t violate the Constitution, but state support for a chaplain did. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled that both were unconstitutional.
“We want to have some type of invocation,” Coppola said. “We know there’s nothing we can do to make everyone happy, but we can shelter the township from litigation.”
The practice of bringing in a local pastor to give the invocation began when Tom Bassford was mayor. Former mayor Keith Hartman expanded that practice to include issuing an invitation to all local religious organizations to give an invocation prior to the beginning of meetings.
Prior to Bassford’s term as mayor, a non-denominational prayer was given prior to the beginning of each council meeting.