UPDATE: Mayor David Bowers said in a phone call that prayer prior to public meetings is a custom dating back to the early days of the pilgrims and our founding fathers. Bowers believes their should be balance. He advocates for all denominations to have an opportunity to participate in Roanoke City Council meeting invocations. Bowers made reference to the guidelines sent out to invited clergy. Bowers said he is a strong believer in diversity and recognition of various cultures at Roanoke City Council meetings. He gave as example presentations and proclamations for children as the Hurt Park Students in their 3rd place win in the “Odyssey of the Mind” competition and Pearl Fu’s presentation to Council for Local Colors. Bowers summed it up with “we on Council need all the help [prayer] we can get.”
–> Ignoring the letter with guidelines that all clergy receive with their invitation to give the invocation at meetings of Roanoke City Council, the Reverend Johnny R. Stone, Pastor of Hill Street Baptist Church referenced “Jesus Christ” twice.
At Monday’s Roanoke City Council meeting Rev. Stone besides thanking “God for his son, Jesus Christ” closed the invocation with a strong resounding “in Jesus’ name we pray.”
The City Clerk, Stephanie Moon when contacted to inquire what if any ramifications this would have on future invocation invitations for Rev. Stone. Moon replied, “I will be contacting Reverend Stone to discuss his prayer.” To date there have been no complaints. The complaint in December of last year involved Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea who is an Assistant Pastor at the Garden of Prayer No. 7. Read the article on a visit to Lea’s church HERE.
Rev. Stone may not be invited back to give another invocation unless he agrees to adhere to the policy.
Back when a complaint and lawsuit threat came to City Council City Attorney Bill Hackworth gave the guidance on invocations. Part of the letter sent by the City Clerk’s office to all invited clergy follows below along with Hackworth’s opinion.
January 30, 2009 Article – Reprint
“Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free” so begins the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
In Hackworth’s letter to Council members he wrote, “One of the wonderful things about our country, of course, is that we are free to debate issues such as this … we are blessed to live in a Commonwealth where religious freedom has been ensured since our earliest days.”
Roanoke City Council will continue with the reinstated custom of having various members of clergy deliver the invocation at regular meetings of Council.
Invited clergy receive a letter from the city clerk’s office that gives guidance and suggestions on delivering nonsectarian prayer. It reads in part:
“the courts have ruled that such invocations delivered by the clergy must be nonsectarian in nature, and should not be used to advance a particular religion or to disparage another faith or belief, but offer a time of reflection and encouragement.”
William Hackworth, Roanoke City Attorney, in a letter to Council members dated January 13th pointed out that invocations are not actually provided for in City Code. However, Hackworth noted that in 2005 the Virginia General Assembly enacted a provision that stated:
“during the time prior to the governing body’s actual call to order or convening of business, any expressions by members of the governing body or members of the public shall be held consistent with the individual’s First Amendment right of freedom of speech.”
According to Hackworth this provision would not prohibit a member of a local council or member of clergy form engaging in whatever type private prayer they wished before commencement of a Council meeting. Hackworth recommended that if this option was chosen then it should be off camera and without microphones.
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Commentary, Roanoke City Politics
Tags: city_council, religion