Casper City Council Nixes Prayer, Moment Of Silence Proposals
A proposal for a prayer at the beginning of City Council meetings didn't have a prayer of its own after council members gave it a thumbs down at a work session Tuesday.
And by a 5-4 vote, an alternate proposal, a moment of reflection, was silenced, too.
Council put the prayer/moment of reflection item on its work session agenda after local resident Dale Zimmerle spoke in favor of it during the regular meetings.
Zimmerle did not return a request for comment.
City Attorney Bill Luben and Assistant City Attorney Wallace Trembath outlined the issues with public prayers, using the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway.
Luben said the ruling allowed prayer, but with cautions: it must happen at the beginning of the meeting; council cannot discriminate against or prefer any religion; and the prayer is directed to the council to make good decisions, and not toward the public.
While Congress and the Supreme Court open with prayer, they are closed to the public, unlike city council, Luben said.
Trembath added those who pray cannot denigrate, intimidate or chastise nonbelievers or those who do not stand during a prayer.
And running afoul of any of those cautions runs the risk of years and thousands of dollars of litigation, they said.
Council member Charlie Powell opposed the proposal because he, as a council member, in good conscience could not impose his beliefs on others, he said. He cited Justice Elena Kagan's dissent in Greece, in which she said "'every citizen deserves an equal share of their government.'" A public prayer would imply some residents are less worthy of government than others, Powell said.
But he and others liked the idea of a moment of reflection.
For example, Luben drafted a statement that would have the mayor announce a moment of silence for council members "to reflect on our task and considerations that lie in front of us this evening in carrying out our duties as the Casper City Council."
Todd Murphy said this would be good for a mental attitude, it wouldn't take much time, it's neutral, it's not offensive, and it's a compromise that wouldn't hint at religion. "It just gives us pause, everybody's quiet and that way nobody's cast out."
But Chris Walsh asked whether a moment of silence would be different than what exists now when people can still pray on their own.
And Amanda Huckabay liked neither prayer nor moment of silence.
"City council is nonpartisan for a reason," Huckabay said.
Those who want a moment of silence will not be satisfied by just a moment of silence, and that would lead to wanting a prayer, she said. "I think that if we open that up, we opening ourselves up to a whole (list) of liabilities and problems that we don't have time or resources to be dealing with."