It was standing room only at the Weatherford City Council chambers Tuesday evening as members of several area churches packed the room to support the issue of prayer before city council meetings.
Father Scott Wilson, of All Saints Episcopal Church and representing the Parker County Ministerial Alliance, told council members that it had come to the alliance’s attention that the council had ended the prayer and pledge of allegiance before the meetings.
He asked the council to return prayer to the meeting, as well as the pledge, and said the group is offering to schedule representatives to pray before the meetings.
If members of other faiths present in the community request the opportunity to pray, the alliance would be willing to schedule those as well, Wilson said.
The majority of people living in Parker County are Christians, Wilson said.
“We want our leaders to call upon Him,” he said.
Wilson also requested they return the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag to the council meeting, as well.
The pledge is in line with the sentiments of the vast majority of residents, Wilson said.
Council member Waymon Hamilton asked Wilson if he was under the impression that council members don’t pray before the meetings individually, and Wilson said he was not that impression.
Council member Craig Swancy said the council had not removed the invocation and pledge from before the meeting recently, adding that, according to his research, it occurred about 37 years ago when someone threatened the city with legal issues.
“I don’t think we have any problem bringing it back,” Swancy said.
One Weatherford resident spoke against the group’s request, saying she did not want a prayer or pledge.
The council asked Parker County Judge Mark Riley, who was attending the meeting, to speak about the county’s experience on the topic, particularly after the recent issues in recent years with the nativity scene near the courthouse.
Riley said all the legal advice they’ve received is that they are within their rights to have prayer before commissioners meet.
The court typically has a pastor deliver the invocation.
Council member Jeff Robinson said he thought it was an awesome idea to bring prayer back to the city council.
Swancy asked Ed Zellers about the legal precedence.
Zellers said some federal courts have said yes, and others have said no. The Supreme Court has only affirmed lower court decisions, so far.
In short, “I don’t know, and neither does anyone else,” he said.
Hamilton said he wanted to see what the city could do to get the invocation reinstated but wanted to make sure they weren’t opening the door to anything.
Council member Heidi Wilder agreed with Hamilton, asking Zellers to look into the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions on the issue, and said she wanted the council to be able to vote on it in the future.
Wilson said Wednesday that he felt the response to his presentation from council members was very encouraging, and it was good to see so many people who are supportive of having prayer before city council meetings.