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Galloway Council Reaches Decision on Invocation

Council members will read from a selection of 35 prayers on a rotating basis, pending a resolution.

The three-person committee assembled to determine the future of Galloway’s invocations prior to council meetings has reached a proposal that seems to have satisfied at least one of the residents who have been outspoken on this issue in recent months.

Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola announced on Wednesday night, Jan. 2, that council has a list of 35 prayers that meet the benchmark set forth by the Marsh vs. Chambers case of 1983. Some of the prayers are used by Atlantic County, and some were crafted by Galloway Council members.

Each prayer will be read prior to the start of the meeting by council members on a rotating basis, as they were prior to Tom Bassford’s tenure as mayor. New prayers may be introduced into the rotation, but they must first be approved by the township solicitor.

Township Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald suggested crafting a resolution setting forth the policy and all details, to be introduced at a future council meeting.

“The policy can always be changed in the future if it needs to be,” Fitzgerald said. “And if it works, we can continue to approve it on a year-to-year basis.”

The subject was first discussed in September, when resident Anna Jezycki first noted council had not invited a local pastor to give an invocation for several months.

The practice of bringing in a local pastor to give the invocation began when 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.

Council continued to hold a moment of silence, but that wasn’t enough to stop the firestorm that ensued.

“To say this is a sensitive and passionate issue is an understatement,” said Coppola, who served on the committee with Councilwoman Whitney Ullman and Councilman Jim McElwee. “This was a great challenge. It’s our duty to represent our constituents, but we must also be careful not to expose our municipality to litigation.”

Coppola recognized that the easy way out would have been to hold the moment of silence, but said the committee recognized that individuals put their faith in God to help them get through the difficult times in their lives. The Marsh vs. Chambers decision made prayer an acceptable part of public and legislative meetings, Coppola said.

“(The recommendation) might not satisfy everyone, but it allows Galloway to join legislative bodies, the Senate and even our county freeholders in having a prayer before their meetings,” Coppola said.

Jezcyki was satisfied by the decision, and directed her comments at Ullman, the only Jewish member of Council who was the subject of criticism by those commenting online during Galloway Patch’s coverage of the issue.

“Half a candy bar for each of us is better than no candy bar for both of us,” Jezycki said. “ … We come to these council meetings because we care, and we’re up front about it. It’s easy to write a letter to the editor, or put up a blog. Why don’t you come show your faces to council people, and stop destroying the things and the people who come out. Come out to the meetings; Miss Ullman does it and I do it.”

Prior to Bassford’s term as mayor, a non-denominational prayer was given prior to the beginning of each council meeting. Galloway Democratic Club President Kevin Krumaker was happy to see a return to this policy, but questioned some of the details.

“I was glad to see Galloway Council paying attention to the history of previous Councils by reinstituting the invocation led by a Council member,” Krumaker said via email Wednesday night. “Although I was concerned by the fact that Council has collected 35 pre-planned prayers. In my doctrine of faith, prayer should be an expression of the times we are living in. My hope is that any prayers offered by Council members reflect what is occurring in our community.”

Dofang January 04, 2013 at 12:10 PM
As a Galloway atheist who pays a high level of taxes in this community, this is a slap in the face. This is the kind of thing I point to when people ask, "why are you atheists so angry?"
Michael Guenther January 04, 2013 at 02:48 PM
If you're so upset about it, why don't you come up with some appropriate statement about hoping council acts with foresight and wisdom etc. that doesn't mention God and ask to have it included in the rotation. Stop b*tching and become part of the solution.
Donna Ann Thomas January 04, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Dofang, if you google around, you will find that atheists have given invocations for government meetings in places like Tulsa, Oklahoma and Grand Junction, Colorado. An invocation isn't necessarily a prayer, but it should be a way to inspire people act with wisdom. (Personally, with our township council, I think that might need a little intervention from God!)
Jim Leeds January 04, 2013 at 03:56 PM
Dofang, There are also many other residents who are not atheist and are also paying high level taxes. The fact that there is prayer does not nor will not affect you or your beliefs. Does this also mean that churches or any other religious organization cannot operate in Galloway because you feel it will be a slap in the face? Are you offended when our President mentions God in his speeches? The fact is we operate on a majority rule. It would seem that the majority is in favor of having prayer.
Dofang January 04, 2013 at 06:50 PM
@Michael, Don't assume that griping on Patch was the only action I've taken! Anyhow I'd love to submit a nonsectarian text to be read. I'm skeptical that it would be used, and I imagine you know equally well that it wouldn't. @Donna, this is indeed true. Of course, if I felt a few words (religious or otherwise) would actually change the minds of those on the council, this would be more than a symbolic issue! But the true reason for the prayer (given the intensity of those in favor of it) is to provide official sanction to religious belief. @Peter, with all the straw-men you're throwing at me, I'm not sure which to start with. Maybe the best thing for me to say is to remind you of what you should've learned in civics class: democracy does not mean 'majority rules.' The entire point of the Bill of Rights was to preserve a basic set of rights that even the majority could not revoke. The problem with state-sponsored prayer is not my personal offense (I'd be awful busy if the existence of churches pissed me off), it's the official government sanction of religion. Many Christians have understood and appreciated this principle, not just atheists. (For example, the prez of Citizens United for Separation for Church and State is a Christian minister!)
Jim Leeds January 04, 2013 at 08:13 PM
Dofang, if a prayer is said prior to any meeting how is that going to affect you as an atheist? How is it going to affect anyone who is an atheist or not? I personally do not see this as a problem because it is open to ALL faiths. And I believe the separation of church and state has more to do with not allowing one to influence the other. It also has more to do with the government not mandating, or controlling, which religion you practice. Decisions made in our government are not based on religion and a simple prayer said will not change that. So I find it hard to see where this is a slap in the face. Religion is already sanctioned by our government. It is printed on our money, it is recognized in our Constitution. And the term separation of church and state is not even written in our Constitution. You make your gripe as if your tax dollar is being wasted yet this will not affect taxes at all. And in all honesty, there are much bigger things to gripe over than this. Your attempts to abolish this practice will succeed at accomplishing nothing. One thing to consider, many Christians are for separation of church and state for the sole reason to protect their religion from the government. From my experiences, it seems atheists are always angry.
Dofang January 04, 2013 at 08:39 PM
The aim of separation of church and state is for the state to remain neutral on religious matters. This protects the church, it protects the state, and it allows the citizenry to make their own decisions on the supernatural. It's a slap in the face not for reason of taxes. It's a statement that 'you are not a part of this society.' A moment of silence allows each person present to pray, think, meditate, or snooze as they so wish, without the implication that a (neutered, politically correct version of) god is universally believed. A moment of silence was sufficient, and it was inclusive of all beliefs. But to appease religious privilege, the council decided to fix what wasn't broken. I would hope that Christians would see this as cynically 'praying like the hypocrites' (Matthew 6:5).
Dofang January 04, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Maybe this analogy will help: Let's say you move to a town where the majority of the public worships tree gods. (Probably somewhere in Oregon or California!) Some worship maples, others worship elms, still others worship pines. Before their council meetings, their 'tree invocation' had favored those who worshiped Elms. So they instituted a moment of silence instead, fearing they might be sued for breaking the separation of Tree and State. But after Elm-worshippers complained, they chose to have a neutral invocation, where they would pray to 'the tree of their choice' with carefully-worded prayers. As a non-tree worshiper, does this seem neutral to you?
Jim Leeds January 04, 2013 at 08:52 PM
There are many that have their interpretation of exactly what separation of church and state is intended to mean. You, as an atheist, have yours. But it was you that implied you pay high taxes and this was unacceptable. And since the township is going to allow all faiths to be represented, then the citizens will be able to make their own opinion on the supernatural. However, I strongly doubt someone hearing a prayer prior to a township meeting will base their faith belief on that alone. Or are you afraid it may convert a random atheist to now have faith in God? In reference to Matthew 6:5, you do not know someone's intentions. For that I give you Luke 6:37.
Dofang January 04, 2013 at 09:22 PM
Ah, I see where I might not have been clear to you. My mention of taxes was to indicate that I am an upstanding member of this community, and am due the rights of any citizen here. Anyhow, for what it's worth, Luke 6:37 works both ways -- Your above assumptions about my motivation reveal the log in your own eye! Anyhow, the intent of the invocation is less a concern than the effect. Regardless of the intent, the effect of the prayer is to imply privilege to religious believers over those who are not. Believe me, if mere exposure to Christianity were likely to convert me, it would've happened ages ago! (As it is, the reverse was the case.)
Michael Guenther January 04, 2013 at 09:41 PM
But that doesn't mean as a non tree worshipper that you can't make a goodwill attempt to include a invocation that doesn't mention trees but does express appropriate sentiments for the council and your neighbors. Some people wanted to have their ministers open with a prayer of their choosing and others wanted to just have a moment of silence but everyone compromised and got some of what they wanted. Why don't you just try to get your own half of the proverbial candy bar.
Dofang January 04, 2013 at 09:47 PM
The argument *started* from half of the candy bar! To an atheist, the 'whole candy bar' would've been a pre-meeting invocation condemning the fallacy of supernatural belief. With a moment of silence, everyone had their proverbial half.
Michael Guenther January 05, 2013 at 04:30 AM
Even allowing for the sake of argument that you are right that a mention that of a deity, any deity, implys privledge toward believers, it does not necessarily mean that they have privledge over nonbelievers. It creates no religious test, does not require your assent of belief, does not affect your ability to speak to council or even run for council yourself. The only real objection of yours that I can see is that it makes you uncomfortable and I suspect that nobody is really comfortable with the whole matter.

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