Thursday, January 15, 2009

Vice Mayor Lea receives criticism and support for stance on prayer

Bishop Shadrack Brown, Jr., Pastor and
Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea, Sr.
“Men in Black” Chorus Cheer for Lea!
When the topic of religious freedom comes into conflict with civil liberties the debate heats up on message boards, blogs, and letters to the editor. The online Star City Harbinger authored by attorney, Hank Bostwick, evoked the ire of Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea this week with his blog topic, “Prayer controversy stoked for political purposes?” Lea posted in response, “for you to imply that I conceived this for some kind of political gain is beyond belief.” Lea closed his comment to Bostwick with, “wishing you God’s Blessings.” Chris Berry, who serves on Roanoke’s Economic Development Authority, posted on Bostwick’s blog January 11th that “if Sherman Lea is committed to conducting a one man crusade against the separation of church and state, his actions and those of his fellow council members need to be examined in the light of day.”

Except for his defense on Bostwick’s blog and answering questions from the media, Lea has quietly made the decision to take himself out of the invocation rotation. The Rev. Harold Sumner invoked the name of “Jesus” repeatedly at Council’s January 5th invocation. Lea said in a phone call that Rev. Sumner was in the rotation before the A.S. Cooper email was received. He added that “he doesn’t know who is giving the invocation until he sees it on the agenda like everyone else.” Lea expects the issue will be discussed at the January 22nd Council Meeting.
It all started with the email signed by a suspect name of “A. S. Cooper” though Eddie Johnson who lives on Cove Road suggested that the “A.S.” could be a euphemism for “Alice” Cooper of KISS rock fame.
Here is the unedited email in its entirety:

“Its illegal to have nonsecular prayers in Roanoke City Council…Mr Leas prayer tonite invoking the name of Jesus Christ in a publicly paid political forum is illegal and offensive to the many religions in Roanoke City….the Council is to have no religious bias and is to serve all citizens regardless of religion……I have CCd the ACLU and will write other organizations including the Attorney General of the US the assure that these transgessions against the Citizens will not occur again. Please desist in these transgressions immediately or face possible lawsuits.”A.S.Cooper

William Hackworth, Roanoke City Attorney, when presented with a list of possible options that Council might legally consider stated that “All of these are options.” The list of options included having no invocation at all, a moment of silence, nonsectarian/inspirational words, having prayer 10 minutes before the opening of the Council meeting either in Chambers or in the adjoining room where the public could choose to attend or not.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the Fredericksburg City Council’s policy. The prior ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ upheld Fredericksburg’s policy prohibiting specific religious references in prayers.

Center Isle Garden of Prayer No. 7

This past Sunday, Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea was praising the name of “Jesus Christ” as he sat at the altar as Associate Minister of the Garden of Prayer No. Seven church located on Cove Road. Lea, a Danville native, was ordained a minister in 1991 before moving to Roanoke in 1992. The large round temple catches the eye as drivers on Hershberger Road approach the crest across from Home Depot. The large sanctuary was at capacity and those in the back rows could view the service watching large projection screens on each side of the sanctuary. The “Men in Black” chorus sang as organ and drums played. Women danced in the isles while others stood clapping their hands. On the front of the church bulletin read, “Where the Spirit of Friendliness Meets All Comers.”

After the service Bishop Shadrack Brown, Jr., Pastor invited members of the congregation to give comment and support concerning Sherman Lea’s prayer dilemma at City Council meetings. There was no shortage or shyness in their expressions of support for Sherman Lea and his open reference to the name of Jesus.

Sandra Banks said of Lea “he stands for and about prayer – he is doing the right thing.”

Daisy Savage wished that Roanoke City Council would “stand back and take a good look at the blessing that having a man of God like [Lea] who is an inspiration for others.”

Denise Stanley has known Lea a long time saying he is an advocate for people in need while Dr. Anthony Hall asked, “the ACLU to come explain who the God is on the money?”

Tony Holland, a barber at More Then A Touch Salon and Barber Shop on Melrose Ave said that Lea has been an inspiration since he has been at this church – “He is full of the Holy Ghost.”

Church Elder and Associate Minister Bill Bulls and his wife Betty, the church secretary encouraged Lea to stay in the invocation rotation exclaiming, “we are doomed if we take Christ out of everything.”

James Hamm, Jr., the Pastor’s Adjutant, summed up the feelings of the congregation calmly stating that “Lea is the best, he should do what is best for him.”

Inside the bulletin was the message “Treat everyone you meet as you want to be treated.”

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Roanoke City Politics


Comments (1)

The Roanoke Free Press

May 6th, 2009 at 12:36 PM    

[…] I contacted the City Clerk, Stephanie Moon to understand 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. […]

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