With a recent Supreme Court ruling in his head and God in his heart, Commissioner George Liner opened the Havelock Board of Commissioners meeting with a prayer on Monday night.
Former mayor Jimmy Sanders, who had traditionally opened meetings with a prayer, decided in March of 2012 that a moment of silence at the start of board meetings would better protect the city from possible lawsuits. He said he couldn’t recite a so-called secular prayer to open the meetings because those weren’t in line with his personal beliefs and he felt that he could not pray that way.
However, a recent Supreme Court ruling on the issue created the opportunity for a more religious prayer to open government meetings, and Liner offered one to start Monday night’s meeting.
“Dear Lord,” Liner said. “We seek your help tonight with our affairs of the City of Havelock. Bless this meeting with your divine intelligence and help us to make the best use of our own. We are of diverse opinions here, yet we wish to mend our differences and reach agreements satisfactory to all. Lord, we ask that you bless this community and protect our military, those at home and overseas, along with their families. Please share a little of your wisdom tonight to help us do what is right by all concerned. We ask this in your holy name, amen.”
Liner said the Supreme Court opened the door to allow for a prayer to open government meetings, as long as that prayer did not attempt to convert anyone to a particular religion.
“It’s something that we’ve always had,” Liner said Tuesday. “I just felt it was time based on the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
Liner said he backed Sanders’ decision in 2012 to start meetings with a moment of silence instead of a prayer.
“Based on legal guidance that we had gotten from our attorney back years ago, we could continue, but was it worth the legal challenge at that time and in the best interest of the citizens and with the costs involved, we felt we couldn’t,” Liner said. “Plus, it restricted how you could do it.”
Liner said his understanding of the Supreme Court ruling is that there are no restrictions now.
Liner said he wrote the prayer, taking parts from other sources, and then presented it to Mayor Will Lewis about 10 minutes before the meeting.
He said he hoped the prayer would return to being a regular part of the meeting.
“I don’t know who’s going to do it next time,” he said. “Hopefully someone else will step forward. If not I’ll have a different prayer.”