Sussex County hotbed of the prayer debate

January 26, 2012

Sussex County appears to be the hotbed of the never-ending struggle of separation of church and state. There is a big bulls-eye right in the heart of Sussex County.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case that barred prayer at Indian River School District meetings, letting stand a lower court ruling. Even so, prayers were heard at a recent meeting.

This time it was two members of the audience who stood up and offered prayers. The two are not strangers to the limelight and having their names printed in newspapers. Eric Bodenweiser and Don Ayotte, both of Georgetown, consider themselves conservative Republicans. Ayotte is running for the Sussex County Council District 3 seat. Bodenweiser, who is also a member of 9-12 Delaware Patriots and the Delaware Tea Party, ran unsuccessfully against Joe Booth in a primary for the 19th Senatorial District. Bodenweiser says although school board members can't pray, other people will show up at upcoming Indian River meetings to pray for them. Time will tell if that can continue.

Not far away on The Circle in downtown Georgetown, Sussex County Council begins every meeting by reciting the Lord's Prayer. The fate of that practice could also end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Four county residents have taken the county to court to halt the policy.

These days it's all about inclusion; no one wants to be left out. By offering a Christian prayer, or even a perceived Christian prayer, those of other faiths – or no faith – are discriminated against. And we all know that discrimination is a word that usually leads to lawyers, court cases, a winner and loser and lots of money being spent.

Although I'm far from an expert on this topic, I've probably read more than the average person about it because I've written so many stories about Sussex County's prayer policy. Even so, I'm still confused. Courts back up the idea that prayer and Bible reading in school is just about taboo because of impressionable children, but there is not a clear-cut direction for policy makers when it comes to prayer by other governmental entities. Of course, those opposed to legislative prayer would say I'm full of beans and case law backs up their stand without a shadow of a doubt. Then again, those for legislative prayer would say the same thing. See what I mean?

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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