Jul 29, 2014

Galloway Council Reaches Decision on Invocation

Council members will read from a selection of 35 prayers on a rotating basis, pending a resolution.

Galloway Council Reaches Decision on Invocation

The three-person committee assembled to determine the future of Galloway’s invocations prior to council meetings has reached a proposal that seems to have satisfied at least one of the residents who have been outspoken on this issue in recent months.

Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola announced on Wednesday night, Jan. 2, that council has a list of 35 prayers that meet the benchmark set forth by the Marsh vs. Chambers case of 1983. Some of the prayers are used by Atlantic County, and some were crafted by Galloway Council members.

Each prayer will be read prior to the start of the meeting by council members on a rotating basis, as they were prior to Tom Bassford’s tenure as mayor. New prayers may be introduced into the rotation, but they must first be approved by the township solicitor.

Township Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald suggested crafting a resolution setting forth the policy and all details, to be introduced at a future council meeting.

“The policy can always be changed in the future if it needs to be,” Fitzgerald said. “And if it works, we can continue to approve it on a year-to-year basis.”

The subject was first discussed in September, when resident Anna Jezycki first noted council had not invited a local pastor to give an invocation for several months.

The practice of bringing in a local pastor to give the invocation began when Bassford was mayor. Former mayor Keith Hartman expanded that practice to include issuing an invitation to all local religious organizations to give an invocation prior to the beginning of meetings.

Council continued to hold a moment of silence, but that wasn’t enough to stop the firestorm that ensued.

“To say this is a sensitive and passionate issue is an understatement,” said Coppola, who served on the committee with Councilwoman Whitney Ullman and Councilman Jim McElwee. “This was a great challenge. It’s our duty to represent our constituents, but we must also be careful not to expose our municipality to litigation.”

Coppola recognized that the easy way out would have been to hold the moment of silence, but said the committee recognized that individuals put their faith in God to help them get through the difficult times in their lives. The Marsh vs. Chambers decision made prayer an acceptable part of public and legislative meetings, Coppola said.

“(The recommendation) might not satisfy everyone, but it allows Galloway to join legislative bodies, the Senate and even our county freeholders in having a prayer before their meetings,” Coppola said.

Jezcyki was satisfied by the decision, and directed her comments at Ullman, the only Jewish member of Council who was the subject of criticism by those commenting online during Galloway Patch’s coverage of the issue.

“Half a candy bar for each of us is better than no candy bar for both of us,” Jezycki said. “ … We come to these council meetings because we care, and we’re up front about it. It’s easy to write a letter to the editor, or put up a blog. Why don’t you come show your faces to council people, and stop destroying the things and the people who come out. Come out to the meetings; Miss Ullman does it and I do it.”

Prior to Bassford’s term as mayor, a non-denominational prayer was given prior to the beginning of each council meeting. Galloway Democratic Club President Kevin Krumaker was happy to see a return to this policy, but questioned some of the details.

“I was glad to see Galloway Council paying attention to the history of previous Councils by reinstituting the invocation led by a Council member,” Krumaker said via email Wednesday night. “Although I was concerned by the fact that Council has collected 35 pre-planned prayers. In my doctrine of faith, prayer should be an expression of the times we are living in. My hope is that any prayers offered by Council members reflect what is occurring in our community.”

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