GREENCASTLE, Pa. — Two members of Pennsylvania atheist groups told Antrim Township supervisors Tuesday night to banish prayer from their meetings.
Area residents, meanwhile, turned out to show their support for keeping prayer on the agenda.
Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting was the second time in two weeks that the representatives attended an area meeting to challenge the constitutionality of prayer during governmental meetings. They attended a Greencastle-Antrim School Board meeting on Aug. 16.
“Stop the sectarian prayers going on here,” said Carl Silverman of Pennsylvania Non-Believers of York (Pa.)
He said the prayers were in violation of a Supreme Court ruling.
Silverman said the Supreme Court ruled against naming Jesus, Father or Lord in the prayer at a governmental meeting.
“You have to be inclusive. The right thing to do would be to have a moment of silence that would be respectful of all your citizens,” Silverman said.
Ernest Perce V, the Pennsylvania state director for American Atheists, condemned the township supervisors for violating the constitution by beginning its meeting with prayer.
Perce said that for 17 years he was a charismatic minister who never violated the separation of church and state.
“I never stepped into city chambers, city halls and violated separation of church and state, because I cared about the other people that were in our community who were not followers of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“Today as an atheist, I care more about separation of church and state than I ever have in my entire life,” Perce said.
If you pray, make it an inclusive prayer, he said.
“Honor the citizens that are in this township that are atheist, agnostics or people who don’t worship Jesus Christ or God or Christianity. Do what’s right. It’s an act of absolute defiance against the citizens and the constitution,” Perce said.
Greencastle resident Duane Kinzer supported the right to pray at township meetings.
“We are a God-fearing township and community,” Kinzer said.
Greencastle business owner John Helfrick stood in support of the supervisors beginning its meetings with prayer.
“We need to pray to our God mightily in these days,” Helfrick said to a spirited round of applause from the audience.
“There is one God and He is the God that we should be serving,” said Carolyn Snyder of Greencastle.
Ray and Linda Martin of Greencastle also defended the township’s right to pray.
“We need to look for His wisdom and guidance in making decisions,” Ray Martin said.
Fred Young III, chairman of Antrim Township Board of Supervisors, who began the meeting with a prayer that was read at the First Continental Congress in 1774, said he’ll continue opening the meetings with prayer.
“The courts have ruled that we are allowed to pray at our meeting. As long as I am chairman, I have no intention of stopping,” Young said.