by Lisa Wilbourne
Though not part of the agenda, much of city council’s very short meeting tonight (March 4) was spent talking about prayer. Eight residents, largely pastors from local churches, spoke during the public comments period about not being denied their right to practice religion and freedom of expression. (Why exactly they came to the conclusion that their own personal rights and freedoms were under attack is unclear.)
City Attorney Dave Holec told council that prayer by a legislative body is legal, but the prayer must be nonsectarian. That is, the prayer cannot be associated with any religion or denomination. So, no praying to Jesus.
In response, Councilor Rose Glover: “I, for one, will not let 19 percent [the percent of the non-religious population cited in a letter to the mayor from Freedom from Religion — the nonprofit that initiated this discussion after a Greenville resident informed them of the rampant prayers to Jesus] of the population tell me what to do. So, Mr. Attorney, get your papers ready.” (Thanks for deciding on such a good use of taxpayer money, Councilor.)
Mayor Allen Thomas’ response was less blunt, but the meaning is likely the same. He spoke grandly of being respectful and inclusive and, most importantly, “proud of who you are.” He also said city council has always done this, and so does congress and the state legislature. (Other people doing something is always a good enough reason, right?)
For the record, no individual is being denied the right to worship whomever they want in whatever fashion. The city councilors have merely been asked to act within the law — not too much to ask, surely. From the time a city council meeting begins until it ends, they are not private citizen Allen Thomas, private citizen Rose Glover, private citizen Calvin Mercer, etc.. They represent the whole of the city’s residents, not just the residents who look or speak or pray like them.
(See Prestidigitation for our previous editorial on the mayor’s social media response to the Freedom from Religion letter.)
As for the rest of the meeting, the consent agenda passed quickly and unanimously without discussion. Council respectfully heard two city boards, the Affordable Housing Committee and the Youth Council, give presentations.
The only other agenda item, a request of Mercer’s to consider disbanding the budget subcommittee put together in 2012, was withdrawn because the subcommittee was in effect for only 2012.
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