Marion City Council May Add Public Prayer in Light of Supreme Court Decision

By Dave Franzman

MARION, Iowa- For the first time ever, the city of Marion will considering using a prayer before starting city council meetings. And that’s a change under discussion after this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on prayers to start government meetings.

Last Monday, the nation’s high court ruled prayer before a public meeting is constitutional. Justices said the content of the prayers is not critical as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.

The court, though, did not give guidance about how other communities should offer those prayers without violating the constitution.

At Thursday’s council session, Marion council members should appoint a committee to set rules and policy on how a public prayer before each meeting would work. Lon Pluckhahn, city manager, said it would probably be a month before the issue would come back for a full council vote.

Pluckhahn said he can’t find any evidence Marion city councils ever started a meeting with a public prayer in the city’s 175 year history. And he’s glanced at bound copies of council minutes dating back to 1901. But he also said it’s not something that’s come up just this week with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Paul Draper, a Marion council member, said he started talking with other council members about a moment of contemplation or a call for guidance last fall.

“The Supreme Court has a prayer before their meetings, congress, the state legislature, Cedar Rapids and other cities too. And there are other cities that may do it now because of the legality of the issue,” Draper said.

While some council members, like Draper, pushed for a change last fall the city’s attorney recommended waiting until the high court decided the issue. When that happen, Draper put the question on the Marion council agenda.

Pluckhahn said he’s heard a couple of negative comments since the issue went on the agenda. He’s said it’s important to make sure the rules don’t favor one religion over another.

“So when you put one together, you still have to be aware it needs to be done correctly and carefully so you don’t create a chilling effect for those not part of the majority religion,” Pluckhahn said.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Chapman, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Marion, said churches were not involved in pushing the prayer question with the council. He believes most ministers would be willing to take part. He also agrees with the city manager — tread lightly.

“It should be as open and welcoming as possible and not just a limited few be able to do this,” Chapman said.

Prayer supporters on the council envision offering a minute at the start of Marion meetings to a rotating list of churches. Those offering prayers could also be the chaplains at the police and fire departments as well as other appropriate religious organizations.

l Comments: (319) 368-8611; dave.franzman@sourcemedia.net

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