CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the many people in Charlotte who were disappointed to hear last week that the city council was ending its opening invocation, their prayers are answered.
The council's committee on Governance and Accountability met Monday morning to discuss whether prayer should be allowed at the beginning of public meetings.
The city attorney, flanked by two assistants, presented a PowerPoint with case law, research and guidelines, and determined that Charlotte is not violating any laws.
"What the council is currently doing is OK," says Jason Kay, a senior member of the City Attorney's office. "It is perfectly constitutional."
The confusion began last week when Mayor Jennifer Roberts declared that council meetings would no longer begin with an opening invocation.
Roberts said she was advised by the city attorney that the prayer and invocation were violating freedom of religion. She says the city attorney pointed to a number of other municipalities, including Rowan County, that lost battles in court to be able to pray.
But the city attorney's office disputes those statements, saying they never directly told the mayor that invocation needed to end.
"The city attorney said that this particular practice if you avoided it, would be 100 percent safe," Kay says. "That was interpreted as advice not to do the practice... I think there was some confusion on that but it has been cleared up now."
After much discussion, the council accepted the explanation and decided to move forward with invocation and prayer at upcoming meetings.
The city attorney did, however, provide some guidelines so that the council does not cross any legal lines.
Among the recommendations:
- The prayer should be directed to the council itself, not the audience.
- The public should not be asked to stand or join in.
- Prayers should not be delivered in a way that makes others feel that their beliefs are inferior.
- Invocation does not have to be religious: ie. moment of silence, or inspirational poetry.
- Council members can now have the option to participate or not.