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Moment of silence to replace prayer at Charles Town council meetings

Decades-long tradition of reciting Lord's Prayer ends

Decades-long tradition of reciting Lord's Prayer ends

May 06, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A tradition of more than 60 years - reciting the Lord's Prayer at Charles Town City Council meetings - has ended.

In its place will be a moment of silent prayer, city council members decided during their regular meeting Monday night.

"I'm not happy about it," said Mayor Peggy Smith, who noted previously that phones at city hall "rang off the hook" from people in support of saying the Lord's Prayer after a controversy arose over its recitation.

Council member Ann Paonessa made the motion to institute the moment of silent prayer, and council member Geraldine Willingham was the only council member to vote against it.

Willingham earlier made a motion to continue use of the Lord's Prayer but the motion failed when only she and council members Don Clendening and Ruth McDaniel voted for it.

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McDaniel also tried to table the issue, but that failed.

The debate began several weeks ago after city resident Richard Schaffer said that reciting the Lord's Prayer is not fair to people who have other beliefs.

Instead of reciting a prayer, Schaffer said he believed there should be a moment of silence.

Schaffer's comments caused a crowd of people to show up at the April 21 council meeting in support of saying the prayer.

At that meeting, Smith said a city attorney was researching the city council's ability to use the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of council meetings.

While Smith said she was not happy with the decision to do away with reciting the prayer, she said she could understand the attorney's research into the issue.

The lawyer determined that the safest way for the council to handle the issue is to have a moment of silence, Smith said.

Another option was to have visiting ministers come to council meetings to offer prayer, but that approach is being challenged in another community because someone was offended by it, Smith said.

Council member Amy Schmitt said she was worried about council members spending a lot of time and money developing a policy on the issue. Schmitt said she felt a moment of silence was the easiest way to deal with it.

"You can pray the way you feel," Schmitt said.

Shaffer distributed a written statement after the vote.

"I am confident whatever decision the mayor and council made is in the best interest of the community and out of respect for the expanding, diverse population that makes up Charles Town," Shaffer said in the statement.

Council members have traditionally recited the Lord's Prayer, then the Pledge of Allegiance.

Smith did some research into the city tradition, and former Mayor D.C. "Doc" Master told her that the Lord's Prayer had been recited at meetings since about 1941, City Clerk Joe Cosentini said.

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