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Mayor: Fayetteville Prayers Can Include 'Jesus'

Posted October 10, 2007

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— City officials will continue to invoke the name of Jesus in prayers at official meetings, despite a memo from the city attorney, Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne said Wednesday.

Fayetteville City Attorney Karen M. McDonald and Cumberland County Attorney Grainger Barrett both asked city and county government employees to refrain from "frequent invocation of the name of Jesus" in prayers at public meetings.

"Frequent invoking of the name of Jesus (or any other Deity) in opening prayer could lead to a lawsuit under the federal civil rights statute," McDonald wrote in her memo, acknowledging that she understood the sensitive nature of the subject. "We must adhere to the constitutional standard that opening prayers are neutral."

The memo noted that several local governments across the state have been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union about their opening prayers.

But Chavonne said the memo was an advisory, not a directive. The city's legal counsel doesn't create policy, he said.

“The legal staff, it’s their responsibility to make sure we’re aware of issues,” Chavonne said. "But the council has never considered any changes to our policy – the mayor hasn't. We never even voted on it, never even discussed it."

City Councilman D.J. Haire said the language of the memo made it sound like policy.

"If you don't sit down and interpret that to me, then someone might think so," said Haire, who added that he plans to continue invoking Jesus whenever he's selected to pray before council meetings.

“My thing is this: What do you do? Do you just kind of quietly sit out and go along with it?” he said. "It is not so much to stop prayer as it is to stop you from praying in the name of Jesus."

McDonald couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Pastors who are invited to pray are informed of the possible legal consequences about invoking a specific deity, Haire said, and many of them refrain from mentioning Jesus.

“They felt comfortable enough to go along with the safeguard that was put in front of them, but I have not been and I will not be,” he said.

Fayetteville residents have criticized what they saw as an anti-Christian policy since WRAL first reported the memo last Friday. Chavonne conducted an interview Tuesday on a local Christian radio station to respond to the criticism.

Anyone in city government is free to mention any deity at city-sponsored events, he said.

"Occasionally, people come in and invoke – we have people come in from the Muslim and Jewish faith, and they pray to their god," he said, adding that a military city like Fayetteville would be reluctant to infringe of people's freedoms.

"People across the world are defending that freedom," he said. "This will be the last city that will ever take any steps to restrict people's right to pray – and to pray to the god of their choice."


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  • aquamama Oct 12, 2007

    I got this message on my profile from WIFE-OF-A-CONCRETE-MAN:

    "religion or nothing else is being forced on anyone. your comments are offending at the very least. did you get out of the "horrible city"? thank you for doinf fayetteville a favor!

    ONEGOODDAD wrote- "your a very sad person", he's right. that is, if you are even human." (refer to my profile for what onegooddad wrote)

    Wow! Questioning my humanity because I don't want to hear about God and Jesus when I attend a public meeting? That's a new one. Shall I come out of the human closet and reveal my Vulcanity now? You can tell by my green blood.

  • ohmygosh Oct 12, 2007

    How many people like those around them babbling on a cell phone?
    Verbal out loud prayer is the same thing-- loud one way babble. Think about it.

    It has also become an "in your face" issue similar to the tactics being used by varous other groups with an adgenda to gain "acceptance". It only polarizes further. As I see it most of those "needing" such are insecure in their faith. They need it to be embraced by others to "prove" they made the right choice.

    There is no place for anything by perhaps a moment of silent reflection at secular events.

    At least the athiests aren't hypocritical. They practice what they "preach". It is amusing to me with that here in the south there are one or two churches on every block (with tons of trash between). I haven't noticed that they are doing any good. The sins of the ages have proliferated at an every increasing rate.
    It is a cop out to think the religion is going to solve the problems we have. It comes back to personal responsibility.

  • Voice of Reason 23 Oct 11, 2007

    Or maybe, we can show up at their church service, and they can stop the service for a few minutes, and we can talk about town business, while they wait respectfully, and then they can continue their church service when we are done.

  • haggis basher Oct 11, 2007

    "The point is, the name of Jesus was specifically singled out and in the memo "or other Deities" is nothing but a parenthetical reference" Willing to bet that JC is the only Deity (though most faiths actually don't regard him as a Deity) ebver mentioned by name in one of these little town hall prayer meets, but yes they should have listed all other Gods as well just to avoid the Cristian lunatic fringe response so ably demonstrated in this whole affair. Basically we have to sit through your prayers whilst attending town meetings that have zero to do with religion. It would be so fun to arrange for half a dozen other religions and for balance an athiest or two to have a "prayer" as well. If the Major has to sit through that every time perhaps his support might waver a bit!

  • Voice of Reason 23 Oct 11, 2007

    No point in arguing this anymore.

    The non-religious people don't have faith, and they aren't going to support a clear violation of the Constitution.

    The religious people on here (for the most part) don't have reason. All the logical arguments in the world aren't going to convince them that they shouldn't be praying to Jesus and making others pray to Jesus, during all official meetings.

    I'm just glad we have a Constitution and Supreme Court which is clear on this.

  • aquamama Oct 11, 2007

    "God" forbid there be a Jew on the city council! Y'know, I graduated from high school in Fayettenam. I had my own little protest when I refused to remove my cap during my high school graduation prayer. I was disgusted and tempted to sue the schools. Mostly I just wanted to get out of that horrible city. Maybe I should've sued and prevented years of students from being subjected to forced religious belief. Can I still do it now? Any civil rights lawyers here?

  • Your Reality Check Bounced Oct 11, 2007

    Read the story properly before posting! The Memo said "Jesus or other Deities"

    Wow, I had no idea the one human (or are you a diety?) on this planet in charge of determining whether or not something has been read "properly" is in our midst. Uptight much?

    The point is, the name of Jesus was specifically singled out and in the memo "or other Deities" is nothing but a parenthetical reference, which has some clear, if subtle, implications about specifically restricting Christians who invoke the name of Jesus.

    Gee, you'd think they could have done a better job of keeping language neutral, especially in a memo specifically attempting to order others to keep their language neutral.

    I'm sorry if you're unable to see the irony in that.

    And if you're an example of being "better mannered", I think I understand why others wouldn't want to be.

  • beas Oct 11, 2007

    Thank you dadof2! Well said!

    "We must adhere to the constitutional standard that opening prayers are neutral." If prayers are neutral, who are we praying to? If it is neutral then we can't be praying to anyone. So what's the point in having a prayer? If we are going to pray (and I hope we do) then let's pray in Jesus's name.

  • daisy Oct 11, 2007

    Correct me if I have my history mixed up, wasnt this country founded by men and women who were escaping a government where the king's version of religion was being forced upon them. The comments such as if you dont like prayer than leave reminds me of just that. I am Christian and work in government but I dont want the two mixing when it comes to government business. Some of the hardest people to work with are the ones who profess to be Christian the loudest.

  • haggis basher Oct 11, 2007

    "this is the way this country started and this is the way it should remain."

    Do you think that only white, male, land owners should get to vote? That you should be allowed to own slaves? If you want to live in the 18th century, fine but don't inflict it on the rest of us.