Supreme Court case could impact Callaway board, councils

FULTON, Mo. - A case concerning legislative prayer being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court today centers around a town council in New York, but the results could just as easily apply to any one of several governing bodies in Callaway County that start their meetings off with an appeal to a higher power.

Today’s case centers on the town council of Greece, N.Y. — a suburb of Rochester — which opens its meetings with prayer. According to an Associated Press article, this will be the high court’s first legislative prayer case since 1983, at which time it ruled opening prayer is part of the nation’s fabric and not a violation of the First Amendment.

The North Callaway School Board, Fulton City Council and New Bloomfield City Council also include prayer at the beginning of their meetings — for reasons similar to those cited by the Supreme Court.

Fulton Mayor LeRoy Benton said the council has been starting meetings with a prayer for as long as he has served — beginning 15 years ago as a council member.

“It’s just a local tradition and something council members enjoy,” Benton said. “It just reminds you that we’re not the highest power there.”

New Bloomfield Mayor Michael Lowe said he is uncertain when the tradition of opening council sessions with a prayer first started, but it is one he enjoys.

“We’re asking for guidance,” Lowe said. “I believe there is a God, and with his guidance, we try to make good decisions for the city.”

Opening with a prayer — and the Pledge of Allegiance — is a newer addition to the North Callaway School Board agendas.

“The board was interested in doing it several years ago, so we looked into it,” Superintendent Bryan Thomsen said, noting district administrators consulted legal counsel first. “They said we could do it as long as we had the opportunity to let people know before we did it, and give them the opportunity to excuse themselves if they don’t want to participate.”

He said public reaction to the addition of the prayer has been supportive.

“I’ve heard positive comments from folks who come, but I’ve never had anybody with any concerns,” Thomsen said.

Benton and Lowe said they have never heard any complaints about using prayer at a government meeting either.

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