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Fayetteville Releases Prayer Memo to WRAL News

Posted October 29, 2007

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— City officials were never told they couldn't invoke the name of Jesus in prayers at public meetings, the city attorney said in a recent memo released Monday to WRAL News.

Fayetteville City Attorney Karen M. McDonald sent the Oct. 9 memo to Mayor Tony Chavonne and members of the City Council several days after WRAL reported on a May 14 memo in which she asked government employees to refrain from "frequent invocation of the name of Jesus" at public events.

The May 14 memo noted that the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged several local governments across the state over opening prayers at public meetings and that Fayetteville could be held liable if a local resident sued the city over prayers at City Council 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 the May memo, acknowledging that she understood the sensitive nature of the subject. "We must adhere to the constitutional standard that opening prayers are non-sectarian and neutral."

After an outcry by local residents and some officials – Chavonne and Councilman D.J. Haire insisted that invocations at public meetings wouldn't change – McDonald issued her second memo, blaming the news report for creating confusion.

"The purpose of the memo was to reiterate the law and to point out that a North Carolina jurisdiction had been sued," she wrote in the second memo. "As with all legal advice, having advised you of the law and the risk associated with violating the law, it is your decision as to whether to adhere to the law."

WRAL stands by its reporting of the initial memo.

McDonald also said in the follow-up memo that she works with city officials to ensure people from various faiths are allowed to provide the invocation at City Council meetings.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • BUCKEYEnNC Oct 31, 2007

    patriotsrevenge, it sounds like you and I see eye to eye on this. Take care!

  • Weetie Oct 31, 2007

    "Congress still opens each session with PRAYER" and they should!

  • BUCKEYEnNC Oct 31, 2007

    OK everyone! Here is another history lesson. No where, I repeat, No where in our Constitution or the Declaration of Independance does it state that we are a Christian nature! We are a secular nation whose laws and customs where drawn from Christain/Judeo beliefs.

    The first amendment contains what is referred to as the "establishment clause" which forbids Congress from establishing an official religion.

    Separation of Church and State protects the church from the state and viceversa. I, being a Christian am glad that we have that clause. History is filled of terrible events where the church and state are intertwined. The Salem Witch trials, the Spainish Inquisition, the Taliban and Sharia law that is practiced in much of the Muslim world are all examples of what can happen!

    Remember this, Jesus specifically admonished His followers to pray in private, not on the street corners like the hypocrates!!!

  • Lightfoot3 Oct 30, 2007

    First of all, praying to any god, whether it be Apollo, Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Thor, Amon-Ra, etc. will get the same results. Nothing! Gods, spirits, and spooks are make believe.

    Secondly, while the Constitution doesn’t specifically say “separation of church and state”, that’s what the establishment clause meant, as it was clarified later by Jefferson in a letter. And that is how the Supreme Court interprets it. It basically means congress will not make a law recognizing one religion over another.

    Thirdly, invoking Jesus at government meetings does NOT specifically violate the Constitution, but it does violate the spirit of it as the Supreme Court interprets it. I think the Constitution needs to be amended to clarify the religion issue, and add that no government entity should be involved in religion.

  • Timbo Oct 30, 2007

    Praying to a single mythical deity should not be condoned by the state. Either you pray to all the mythical deities, or none.

    By praying to one deity, the state is advocating that deity by the exclusion of others. You want to pray? Go to your church or wherever you feel comfortable. But for state/government functions, it is completely inappropriate.

    Personally, I'm happy that people find comfort in religion, but it's not for everyone.

  • sunnyskies Oct 30, 2007

    Policies, decisions,and actions WILL ALWAYS be governed by a belief system. If it is not Christianity, then it will be something else ...such as secular humanism.

    People can see or say many things through the media. People can choose to listen or not listen, watch or not watch. It is amazing how some people are intolerant of Christians praying in public places - words... most likely good things, kind things, uplifting. People using their right to freedom of speech. ....And kids in schools can learn about other religious holidays but somehow not learn about Christmas. There just seems to be a double standard.

  • javanet Oct 30, 2007

    Ms McDonald said "We must adhere to the constitutional standard that opening prayers are non-sectarian and neutral."
    That is NOT in the consitutional! What law is she saying must me adhered to that does not allow praying in the name of Jesus?
    She would better serve the City of Fayetteville if she told the ACLU to back off, rather than communicate their FEAR tactics to City Officials and Employees.

  • gnew46 Oct 29, 2007

    She's doing what she is paid to do: advising the city of the consequences of continuing to pursue illegal policies.

    There is a huge difference in policy and law. Exactly which law are you alluding to?

  • gnew46 Oct 29, 2007

    "I am a child of God first," he said. "I like being an elected official, but I'm not going to manipulate the Word of God to satisfy them."

    Kudos for the Fayettville City Council for rejecting this nonsense and kudos to WRAL for reporting it in the first place. We are all children of GOD and this is America. There is no amendment which addresses separation of Church and State. President Thomas Jefferson mentioned this in a letter when he was in office but it has been taken out of context and higly abused.

  • patriotsrevenge Oct 29, 2007

    Thank God for the ACLU.