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Debate over Lord's Prayer reignites at council meeting

April 22, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A local man's objection to the practice of Charles Town City Council members reciting the Lord's Prayer before their meetings touched off a long debate on the issue at Monday's council meeting.

Rich Schaffer, who lives on Mildred Street, said he sent Mayor Peggy Smith an e-mail recently saying that reciting the Lord's Prayer is not fair to people who have other beliefs.

Instead of reciting a prayer, Schaffer believes there should be a moment of silence.

Schaffer's comments caused a crowd of people to show up at Monday's meeting in support of the use of the Lord's Prayer.

As the council has done for decades, council members led the crowd Monday night in reciting the Lord's Prayer and Ranson, W.Va., resident Ed Stanton said he was glad to hear it.

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Stanton's comment was followed by a round of applause.

Stanton said the entity he felt most sorry for in the debate was the Lord himself.

"If you don't know Him, he certainly won't know you," Stanton said.

Schaffer, who was at Monday's meeting, said he took offense to many of the comments.

"I'm not a heathen," he said.

Schaffer said if the housing market was not so bad, he would put his house on the market and move.

But Schaffer, who is Jewish, warned that change will keep coming to the town, even if he is not there.

"When we stop understanding people, that's when problems begin," Schaffer said.

One woman who supported use of the Lord's Prayer began to break down and cry when she spoke.

Melodie Williams of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., pointed out how the country has been built on Christian values for hundreds of years.

City Council member Geraldine Willingham said visitors to the town should be able to determine from the nine churches in Charles Town that Christian beliefs are important there. Willingham said she is tired of new people moving into the area and wanting to make changes after they arrive.

"Frankly, I'm tired of it," Willingham said.

"We have worked for this town and this town has survived," Willingham said.

After the issue arose last week, phones at City Hall "rang off the hook" from callers supporting the Lord's Prayer, Smith said.

Schaffer did get some support at the meeting.

David Baltierra, who lives in town, said reciting the Lord's Prayer excludes beliefs others might have.

Smith said the city's attorney has not finished looking into the council's ability to use the Lord's Prayer.

Samuel Ericsson, a Shannondale resident who said he is an expert on the issue, told council members about how prayer is used in Congress and to start U.S. Supreme Court proceedings. Ericsson said it is not so much a religious issue as one of freedom of expression, and he offered to help the council on the issue.

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