American Civil Liberties Union says stop prayers at council meetings

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acluALTHOUGH it wasn’t on the agenda, the Lord’s Prayer dominated discussion on Dec 8 at the Monroeville council meeting.

Sara Rose, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Pittsburgh, said the organization recently received complaints about Mayor Greg Erosenko beginning Monroeville council meetings with the Lord’s Prayer.

On Dec 7, the ACLU’s Pittsburgh office sent a letter to Mr. Erosenko and council asking that the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer prior to council meetings cease.

“We believe that meetings of legislative bodies like Monroeville council should not include prayer because council represents everyone in the community,” Ms. Rose said in a phone interview.

“We think that it creates division, and we don’t think that’s a good thing,” she said of prayer at public meetings. She added that prayer leaves out those who are nondenominational, polytheistic or non-believers.

At the Dec 8 meeting, Mr. Erosenko stepped down from his seat in the mayor’s chair temporarily to address council at the podium as a resident.

“This whole business about the prayer,” he began, continuing, “It’s very sad we have to take a look at and change things we did for many decades.

“This is not over, folks,” he said. “It’s sad we had to change something our nation was founded on. My opinion is I think it’s a sad day, not just for Monroeville but for our entire country.”

He added that he has had people from all over the country thank him for his stance on saying the Lord’s Prayer prior to council meetings.

Several residents spoke during the meeting, most in favor of having the Lord’s Prayer recited at council meetings.

“I can’t think of any society anywhere that got better from removing prayer,” said Paul Kirschbaum, pastor at Monroeville Assembly of God.

During his public comment, Bruce Shafer, pastor of Grace Life Church in Monroeville, invited the audience to join him in prayer.

Resident Helen Crowell said, “Our nation was founded on Christian principles.” She added that having another prayer at meetings would “make mockery of the one and true god.”

Resident Calvin Clark, who said he is on staff at New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroeville, said he will be praying for council, but added, “We believe part of God’s wisdom is tolerance for each other. I would ask for my own religion to be tolerated and want others to be tolerated as well.”

Rabbi Barbara Symmons, president of the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium, said having a single prayer recited at the meetings is “really hurtful for a lot of us.” She said the ministerium endorses a moment of silence instead of a prayer.

“We should be proud of the diverse community we are,” Rabbi Symmons said. “We don’t want to take away prayer, we want to be more inclusive so more people can pray.”

Ms. Rose said if Monroeville doesn’t comply and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer continues at meetings, it is likely the ACLU will file a lawsuit against Monroeville.

“We gave them a deadline of Jan. 4” to comply, she said.

Monroeville solicitor Bruce Dice said he and council are working to create an ordinance to establish a policy regarding an invocation before council meetings.

“We’re not going to enter into discussion on this matter until we’ve done our due diligence,” Mr. Dice said.

Manager Tim Little would not comment on the contents of the ordinance but said it is expected to be advertised in the next week and ready for a vote by council in January.

Councilman Paul Caliari told the majority of the audience supporting the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at meetings, “I agree with you. I’m tired of being quiet all the time.”

He added, “I only speak for myself, and I’m willing to take the ramifications.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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