Prayers get strong support at county
Prayer was the topic for Milam County commissioners Monday as three court visitors—in emotional and sometimes intense presentations—urged the county to continue opening its meetings with spoken prayers.
County Judge Dave Barkemeyer, who has been dealing with the issue since receiving a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State earlier this month, said he intends to do just that, but urged a tolerant, all-inclusive approach.
“It is our purpose not to exclude anyone from being a part of this public meeting,” he said.
Barkemeyer opened Monday’s meeting with a prayer which asked for “tolerance,” then called for a moment of silence and a period where “persons of different faiths, or no faith” were invited to offer prayers or “words of encouragement.”
‘FILE 13’—Former Milam County Agent Bill McCutchen of Cameron, Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Andy Isaacs of Milano and Rockdale resident Jerry McPeek all endorsed Barkemeyer’s actions.
While McCutchen said he commended Barkemeyer’s actions, he added “the first thing I’d like to have seen you do with that letter was to file it in ‘file 13’,” he said.
The letter said the court “invites only Protestant clergy to provide the opening invocation and that these invocations frequently invoke the name of Jesus Christ and are thus sectarian.”
It went on to state that the practice “is in violation of the Establishment clause of the U. S. Constitution.”
It went on to suggest possible alternatives but added: “We note that even nonsectarian prayers raise important concerns. The group said it had received a complaint regarding the practice.
HISTORY—McPeek presented what he said was a history of “separation of church and state issues.”
He said the phrase does not appear in the constitution but comes from a letter by Thomas Jefferson assuring a Baptist group the government would not interfere with them.
“It (separation of church and state) was to be used to keep the state out of the church’s business, not the keep the church out of the state’s business,” McPeek said.
Isaacs said his JP court sessions open with prayer.
“We pray for wisdom, knowledge and understanding,” he said. “I want them (indicating the commissioners) to have that too.”
“I will defend your right not to believe,” Isaacs said. “Just don’t tell the 99 percent of us who do (believe) that we can’t do that.”
“I’m a little disappointed this place isn’t full this mornng with a line stretching out into the hall,” he said.
ALL-INCLUSIVE—Barkemeyer said he and the court are sincere in offering persons of other faiths, and no religious faith, the opportunity to participate in the county’s public meetings.
“This (a debate over prayer) is not what we’re here for,” he said. “We’re here to do the business of Milam County.”
He issued a challenge to the presumably predominantly Christian audience to show tolerance in case the county’s offer of other kinds of prayers is taken up some day.
“I’ve got friends who are Hindus. I’ve got friends who don’t believe in God,” Barkemeyer said.
“If someone comes here and offers a Buddhist or a Hindu prayer, we need to respect that,” he said. “I know that’s going to be hard for some of us Christians.”
“But if we expect them to do that for us (respecting Christian prayers) we need to do that for them,” Barkemeyer said. “This is America.”
REPORT—Geri Burnett, chairperson of the Milam County Historical Commission, presented a review of the group’s activities in 2011.
She said the MCHC awarded $13,700 in grants during the year with an estimated benefit to the county of $27,400.
She said two historical markers were dedicated during the year and a third has been approved.
In other business, commissioners:
• Recognized education milestones for District Clerk Cindy Fechner and Precinct 2 Constable Charlie West.
• Increased the county’s mileage rate from 45 to 55 cents, bringing it in line with the state rate.
• Renewed the county’s subscription with the Lexus-Nexus website, which is used heavily in investigations by the prosecutor’s office.