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Prayer not likely at city meetings

By Bryan Richardson

Tuesday’s City Commission meeting started as it typically does with the Pledge of Allegiance.

The commission would have an opportunity to open meetings in a different manner after a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the issue of public prayer at meetings.

However, some city commissioners indicated after the meeting that prayer isn’t something people should expect from this commission anytime soon.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Greece, N.Y., city council isn’t violating the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer of the Christian faith.

This upholds the practice that many legislative bodies, including the Kansas House and Senate, conduct.

The city, Riley County Commission and USD 383 school board currently don’t have that practice.

“Me personally, I wouldn’t bring in someone to do a prayer,” Mayor Wynn Butler said.

Butler said he’s fine with “under God” being said in the Pledge of Allegiance, but it becomes difficult to justify a prayer.

Commissioner Usha Reddi said the decision being a 5-4 vote shows that the prayer in that setting is divisive.

“We would need to be sensitive to other religions and beliefs before we made a decision on that,” she said. “But that’s not a discussion we’ve had.”

However, the city isn’t a stranger to the debate of prayer starting a meeting.

As mayor in 2003, Mark Taussig, associate director of campus planning at K-State, advocated for prayer to open commission meetings.

Instances of public prayer during city meetings happened April 15, 2003, after his introduction ceremony when Capt. Johnny Harsh of the Salvation Army recited a prayer that included several mentions of Jesus Christ and laying on of hands, and April 29, 2003, when a prayer citing Jesus Christ was said in honor of a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer.

Despite these prayers, the policy of opening meetings with prayer never caught on.

Butler referenced his Army experience by mentioning how Army chaplains served everybody.

He said any public prayer that happened would need to be similarly inclusive.

“I think that’s what you have to do in a public environment,” he said.

Commissioner Karen McCulloh said there are many differences when it comes to prayer, mentioning that even The Lord’s Prayer has different versions.

“The issue with prayer is you have to be fair to everybody,” she said. “Not everybody prays the same way and to the same deity.”

Leah Fliter, USD 383 school board vice president, said the school board hasn’t discussed the topic, but she said she would prefer to keep such practices in the church.

Fliter said the issue with the Greece, N.Y., council is they don’t have allowances for other faiths in prayer.

“If you are going to have prayer, you need to make sure you don’t just have one particular denomination represented,” she said.

Bob Boyd, Riley County Commission chair, said there hasn’t been any talk about adding a prayer with the county commission, either.

“We really don’t see a need to have a corporate demonstration of piety,” he said.

Boyd said he respects other people’s right to their own religion, but thinks it’s a personal practice.

“It’s between you and your maker,” he said.

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