Kannapolis votes to start meeting with silent prayer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS — Members of the Kannapolis City Council decided Monday to end the practice of praying aloud before regular meetings.
Instead, Mayor Bob Misenheimer and members told the Post, meetings will now open with what will be called “a moment of silent prayer.”
The consensus decision came after an 80-minute closed session in which City Attorney Wally Safrit advised members of legal options.
Safrit did not detail his conversation with council members.
But, in January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a ruling that found Forsyth County’s prayer policy unconstitutional, saying it effectively endorsed Christianity.
The ACLU of North Carolina then sent letters to about two dozen government bodies asking them to stop opening their meetings with sectarian prayers.
On March 14, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter asking Kannapolis to do likewise, following a member’s complaint.
Safrit said the Forsyth County decision “pretty much gives a road map” as to what is considered constitutional at public meetings.
Following closed session, City Manager Mike Legg reopened the meeting room door and the meeting closed with a vote to adjourn until the April 4 economic development summit.
All seven members, Legg and Safrit then remained to give statements and take questions.
There had been no official vote on the issue. All votes must take place in open session.
Legg said a vote wasn’t needed because no ordinance sets policy for City Council meeting agendas.
The policy on invocations is effectively set when members vote to adopt the agenda at the start of a meeting, Legg said.
Going forward, Misenheimer said, the agenda will include “a moment of silent prayer” and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Councilman Ryan Dayvault said that choice of words is deliberate.
“We want to be clear, this is not just a moment of silence or reflection,” Dayvault said.
Councilman Darrell Hinnant said he wanted Kannapolis to know that City Council members are people of faith.
“We want to continue to pray, and we want people to pray with us,” Hinnant said.
Councilman Tom Kincaid, whose Feb. 13 invocation was singled out in the Foundation’s complaint, said he respects differences of faith and belief.
“But we reserve the right to our faith, also,” Kincaid said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gene McCombs said, “I think that it’s important that we recognize the separation of church and state. We intend to comply with the law of the land and yet maintain our right to prayer.”
Councilman Roger Haas said that this does not mean members are happy with the decision.
Legg chose not to speculate on what the results would have been if Kannapolis had defied the request.
“The law is pretty clear, and that doesn’t paint a good picture of the outcome if it were to be challenged,” Legg said.
Though hundreds protested when Rowan County Commissioners were asked to stop praying, no one rose to speak to the issue in Kannapolis on Monday.
The Rowan County Commissioners have met three times since the ACLU’s request.
Board Chairman Chad Mitchell and Commissioner Jon Barber invoked Jesus’ name in their prayers. Commissioner Raymond Coltrain, who gave the most recent invocation, avoided a reference to Christ.
Hundreds attended those meetings, most of them calling on commissioners to continue opening with Christian prayer.
As usual, Monday’s regular Kannapolis City Council meeting opened with a prayer by a member.
It was Councilman Randy Cauthen’s turn to pray.
After asking for guidance for the board and safety for America’s troops, Cauthen said, “Tonight, we pray for those who want to restrict our right to pray.”
“Father, open their minds and hearts to understand that our great country was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” Cauthen continued.
He closed his prayer, “We ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen.”
His prayer was followed by a round of applause from the audience, leading Misenheimer to bang the gavel and ask the audience to keep order.
Later, during the public comment portion of the meeting, Bishop Roland Jordan of Concord asked the council to support prayer as part of his remarks on other issues.
“We need prayer for this country,” Jordan said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.