To protect the religious freedom of its constituents, the City Council has decided to open its legislative sessions with a moment of silent meditation, rather than the traditional Lord’s Prayer.
“We need to be mindful of the fact that we do this from the position of government officials, and law cases have very definitively stated we are not to promote religion over secularism, secularism over religion, or one religion over another,” said Council President Terry Cohen at this week’s six-and-a-half-hour work session.
The council considered several options, including removing prayer completely, reciting a prayer not exclusive to a particular deity and implementing a rotation in which each meeting is opened by a resident representing a different religion.
A 2008 opinion written by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor factored into the council’s decision, as the ruling states “the restriction that prayers be nonsectarian in nature is designed to make the prayers accessible to people who come from a variety of backgrounds, not to exclude or disparage a particular faith.”
City Clerk Brenda Colgrove polled 30 Maryland municipalities regarding their religious practices. Of those, nine recite a verbal prayer, seven recite the Pledge of Allegiance and observe a moment of silence, and 14 do nothing.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell first suggested the moment of silence at an April 19 work session, and said Monday that it’s the best way to be equitable, respectful and legal.
“For me, prayer is very private and a silent prayer is a way I can worship the way I choose without forcing that on anyone else,” she said.
Councilwoman Shanie Shields staunchly opposed removing verbal prayer, stating the rotation of different faiths would be best.
“I don’t care what other cities do, or what the Constitution says, because sometimes that’s wrong,” she said. “We talk about crime, the economic situation of our people, children getting into trouble in school — the city needs prayer.”
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