County asked to stop prayers at meetings
“We have received a complaint regarding the commissioners Court’s practice of opening its meetings with sectarian Christian prayer.
“ We u nder st a nd t he c ou r t invites only Protestant Christian clergy to provide the opening invocation, and that these invocations frequently invoke the name of Jesus Christ and are thus sectarian.
“We write to inform you that this practice is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, and to ask that you bring your prayer practice into constitutional compliance by taking any one of the following actions:
“• Replacing the prayer with a moment of silence;
“• Revising your prayer policy to allow only nonsectarian prayer
“• Injecting religious diversity into your prayers, so that the prayer opportunity is not solely dominated by Christians.”
They went on to cite all the court decisions backing up their position and concluded with;
“ We note that even nonsectarian prayers raise important concerns. The citizens of Milam County adhere to a diverse array of religious traditions and beliefs. Prayer associated with the Christian or Judeo- Christian tradition tend to exclude and alienate people of minority faiths as well as nonbelievers, sending them the message that the Court does not represent their interests or welcome their points of view in debates over matters of concern to the community.
“Accordingly, because the Court is a representative body for all Milam County residents, regardless of their faith, we urge you to consider eliminating the prayers altogether, in order to make all commissioners and their constituents feel equally welcome.
“If, however, you insist on maintaining the practice of offering prayers before meetings, the Court must take action to ensure that prayer practice is non sectarian.”
I have responded on behalf of the Commissioner’s Cour t and I wanted you the citizens of Milam County to hear my reply:
“Thank you for your letter concerning prayer at Milam County Commissioner’s Court meetings. Let me clarify the intent of our practices and the modification that we will make to our agenda to hopefully make our practice clearer to our citizens.
“All religious faiths are welcome in our court along with those who profess no belief in any deity. Those of us that believe in God and Christ as the Son of God who generally make up the majority of those present like to ask our God to bless our efforts on behalf of all the citizens of our county.
“Either one of us or one of the leaders of one of the religious groups in the county leads that prayer. This is not done with the intent of excluding anyone of a different faith or views.
“ We welcome those of other faiths to do the same, or those that do not profess a faith to offer a word of encouragement as well.
“To clarify this for folks in the future, we will add an agenda item each meeting for those of other faiths than the one (s) verbally expressed or for those with nonreligious convictions to also offer encouragement during a period of silent meditation.
“We will also provide an opportunity for leaders of all religious persuasions or others that want to express nonreligious words of encouragement to step forward and verbally express a prayer or supplication during this period.
“Like the leaders of the First Continental Congress that history records read scripture and prayed for hours before commencing and those of our founding fathers who followed, we in Milam County leadership believe that asking for God’s guidance and help is essential in effective government, but just like them we at the same time respect the rights of those whose views on religion differ or who do not believe at all.
“I believe that the first amendment was intended to prevent a government from imposing a specific denomination or religion on the people when it states that ‘congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion’.
“We are not imposing any particular religion on anyone here in Milam County. At the same time I believe that we should not be prohibited ‘the free exercise thereof’.
“We want to be able to freely exercise our religion, and we will see that all have that same opportunity, and feel welcome and free to express themselves along with the rest of us on our behalf in Milam County Commissioner’s Court.”
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