The Spring Lake Board of Alderman on Monday rejected creating a new invocation policy for the town, after months of discussions.
The board has been considering an invocation policy that would invite community members of all faiths, instead of board members, to say the prayer at the beginning of meetings. The board currently does not have a policy.
“This is not an attack on Christianity,” Mayor Kia Anthony said. “This is us protecting ourselves from any sort of litigation.”
Background information provided to board members at previous meetings included a highlighted excerpt from the University of North Carolina School of Government that stated that prayer during meetings “violates the Constitution” in certain situations. The statement said that based on a 2013 Circuit Court case, that situation occurs when only board members deliver the prayers, they are all of the same religion, they don’t present an opportunity for other faiths to be represented, and they provide the invocation during “the intimate setting of a local government meeting.”
Initial coverage:Spring Lake board asks for new prayer policy, welcomes new interim town manager
As a result, the board on Monday received a new invocation policy from town staff, which stipulated:
- The invocation could be at the beginning of the meeting to “add solemnity to the meeting and ask for wisdom and guidance from a higher authority as the aldermen engage in issues that impact Spring Lake residents”
- The town clerk would schedule individuals from local faith-based organizations to offer the invocation
- Individuals with no religious affiliation may offer “a brief statement to reflect on the gravity of the moment, seek peace for the nation and town, wisdom for its lawmakers and justice for its people or appeal to universal values of the country”
- The board may ask for a moment of silence if a person is not scheduled for the invocation
- No one is required to participate in the invocation.
Interim Town Manager Joe Durham said that the town staff created this policy based on other policies across the state. He also said that some boards have adopted policies, some have eliminated invocations completely and others have done nothing.
Alderwoman Sona Cooper said that this policy was not removing the invocation, which some members of the public had previously believed. “It actually opens it up to more people,” she said.
Not everyone agreed. Two former aldermen spoke during public comment in opposition to the proposed policy.
“This is a personal agenda,” James Christian said. “We should be focusing on finances.”
Later in the meeting, Anthony, who brought up the discussion about the invocation, denied that it was a personal agenda.
Fredricka Sutherland said that, in more than a decade of service to the town, she had never seen it be an issue. “We have more pressing issues that we need to deal with,” she said.
Current board members also were not supportive of the proposed policy. However, they were supportive of inviting members of the public to state the invocation, as long as it did not prohibit the board members from doing the same.
“I think that merely inviting the public to do the invocation in their forum is sufficient to cover and protect us (from litigation),” Alderman Raul Palacios said.
Jonathan Charleston, who has resigned as town attorney but agreed to stay with the town until it finds a new attorney, said that it was important for the town to be compliant with the law.
Charleston resignation:State takes issue with Spring Lake board’s actions, including violation of open meetings law
“I think we can do that without having the policy,” Palacios responded.
Alderman Marvin Lackman, who has previously vocalized his opposition to the policy, made a motion to reject the proposed policy.
“As an alderman, I came to serve the people. I came here to work and try to improve this town,” he said. “Let’s put this to bed once and for all.”
Palacios, Adrian Jones Thompson and Robyn Chadwick supported Lackman’s motion. Cooper voted against the motion. Anthony is not a voting member of the board and therefore did not participate.
Reporter Ivey Schofield can be reached at [email protected]