Council agrees to discuss prayer change

Sussex County Councilmen Vance Phillips, left, and Mike Vincent recite the 23rd Psalm before the council's May 13 meeting. Council agreed to hold a strategy session at its May 20 meeting to discuss changing the prayer. BY RYAN MAVITY
May 13, 2014

Sussex County Council has agreed to hold a strategy session at its Tuesday, May 20 meeting in executive session to discuss seeking relief from a federal court order to change the prayer it is using to open meetings.

Councilmen Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, and Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, led the charge for changing the prayer from the Old Testament’'s 23rd Psalm to The Lord’s Prayer, which council had used for decades until a 2011 lawsuit in U.S. District Court led to the change. Council agreed to a consent order that allowed them to say Psalm 23 before meetings, an order Wilson and Phillips voted against.

On the other side was Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, who believed the council should not spend taxpayer dollars on lawyers’ fees in order to change the prayer. Cole and Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, said they wanted to see some kind of a plan for changing the prayer before moving forward. Otherwise, they supported sticking with the 23rd Psalm.

The topic of changing the prayer came about after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Town of Greece, New York vs. Galloway, in which the court ruled the town could have prayers at the beginning of meetings, since the town’s policy toward prayer was open and nonexclusive in allowing various faiths to participate.

County Attorney J. Everett Moore said the Sussex County case was different in that the same prayer was used every week, whereas in the Greece case different faiths, including a Jewish layman and a Wiccan priestess, were allowed to say prayers. Moore said because the council entered into the consent order to allow it to continue to say a prayer before meetings, the council must ask for the court’s permission before changing the prayer.

While Wilson very much wanted The Lord’s Prayer brought back, Phillips agreed with Cole that the council should be cautious before spending taxpayer dollars on changing the prayer.

Although the strategy session will be held in executive session, Moore said the council should conduct a vote in open meeting if they decide to change the prayer.

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