A new invocation policy is now in place in Galloway Township, just over three months after the debate over its absence first came into the spotlight.
Galloway Council unanimously approved a resolution put forth by the committee nominated to draft the new policy Tuesday night, Feb. 26.
“I’m quite happy to be presenting this resolution tonight,” Deputy Mayor and Committee Chair Tony Coppola said prior to Tuesday night’s vote. “It’s something we didn’t want to mandate, but we also didn’t want to be told we can’t have it.”
Per the new policy, there are 35 pre-selected non-denominational prayers available for members of council to read on a rotating process prior to each meeting. However, the reading of a prayer isn’t mandatory, as council members may still choose not to read a prayer, and a moment of silence remains optional.
“No one is obligated to read one and there is no public exposure if they choose not to,” Coppola said. “If they don’t want to do it, we’ll just go to the next council person.”
The policy also states that if a council member goes beyond the parameters set forth by the policy, they are not covered by the township in case of litigation. If a council member chooses to read another prayer not on the list, they can submit another prayer to be approved by the township solicitor.
The issue first came to the forefront on Nov. 13, 2012, when residents began to question why local pastors were no longer being invited to say a prayer prior to the meetings. Those prayers were replaced by a moment of silence.
According to the township, it was hoping to avoid potential lawsuits by moving to a moment of silence. Following the uproar, a committee consisting of Coppola, Councilman Jim McElwee and Councilwoman Whitney Ullman was assembled to study implementing a new policy.
Over the past few weeks, a resolution concerning the policy was either not included on the agenda, or tabled during the meeting, so that the township could make sure it had the proper wording.
In that time, local pastors have visited council meetings, and offered prayers for both residents and council members during the public comment portion of the meeting.
On Tuesday night, the resolution was finally introduced and passed, 7-0.
Prior to Tom Bassford’s term as mayor, council meetings began with a non-denominational prayer led by a council member.
Bassford introduced the idea of an invocation, and former Mayor Keith Hartman championed a policy of inviting every religious institution, regardless of belief, to give an invocation. If any religion was not represented by an institution in the township, Galloway would contact institutions at the county level in an effort to get a fair representation, according to Hartman.