The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

April 15, 2013

Prayer meeting

Council rejects petition to end invocation

GREENVILLE — The latest salvo from group of self-described “free-thinkers” in their war against religious expression in the public sphere was fired last month at Greenville Council.

Freedom From Religion Foundation’s staff attorney Rebecca Markert sent council President Brian W. Shipley a letter asking borough officials to end a long-standing practice of opening monthly council meetings with prayers led by members of the Lakeland Ministerial Association.

Markert said she was acting on a complaint from a “local person” whom she wouldn’t identify.

The prayers violate the First Amendment, Markert said.

The letter didn’t strike fear in the heart of Shipley or other council members.

The prayers have began the meetings “as long as anyone can remember,” and have never been met with a complaint, Shipley said.

“We make the time available, but we don’t have any involvement with who speaks or why,” Shipley said.

The prayers will continue, he said.

Other council members agreed the complaint from the Madison, Wisc.-based organization wasn’t reason enough to end the prayers.

“I am perfectly OK with prayer at meetings,” Councilman Anthony D’Alfonso said. “I think it’s a long-standing tradition that should be honored.”

The prayers, led by a rotating slate of clergy who are almost entirely Christian, “provide guidance and blessings to council and the community,” D’Alfonso said.

“I don’t see it at an issue that should be addressed,” he said.

The complaint “came as quite a surprise,” D’Alfonso said.

Councilman Ted Jones called the complaint “pretty crazy.”

“I think it’s pretty stupid,” Jones said. “I don’t think we should do anything.”

The complaint is one of many the group sends out, Markert said.

In 2012, the foundation sent more than 1,000 letters addressed to groups they believe are violating the separation of church and state.

Last year, the group saw success locally when they got Grove City School Board to change its prayer policy to a moment of silence.

But prayer before a school board meeting and a borough council meeting differ in their impact, church-state expert Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum’s Religious Freedom Education Project, said.

“This is one of the murky things,” that are debated nationally, Haynes said.

He noted that “legislative prayers” can be constitutional if they are ecumenical and don’t advocate a specific doctrine.

Prayers at school board meetings are considered taboo because even during the course of legislating school business, school boards are in the business of education, which makes it a “school prayer issue” which the Supreme Court has found is unconstitutional.

Both pro- and anti-prayer groups have a rich history in American life, Thiel College religion professor Dan Eppley said.

“Puritans came to America to escape an established religion,” Eppley said.

But this is also the same country with “In God We Trust” on its money and that pledges allegiance to a flag “under God,” he said.

“This is yet one more chapter in a very, very long narrative in which both sides can claim” to be grounded in American values, Eppley said.

For now, the prayers will remain at Greenville council meetings.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation generally gives parties it sends complaint letters to about a month to address the concerns.

Markert said she didn’t know if the group would pursue the matter of prayer in Greenville in court.

“We wait to hear back from the council and discuss what the local complainant thinks the next action should be,” she said.

Text Only
Local News
  • News briefs from April 18, 2014

    ‘Nonspecific threat’ prompts evacuation

    Supreme Court refuses to hear couple’s appeal

    Lung Association offering free radon test kits

    April 18, 2014

  • Man admits to choking; rape case is dropped

    A Greenville man on Thursday pleaded down a rape case to simple assault and continued to deny that he committed any sexual crimes.

    April 18, 2014

  • Judge issues tabletop ads injunction against couple

    A judge recently handed down an injunction prohibiting a Sharon man, his wife and two companies associated with the wife from working in the tabletop advertising business within 100 miles of Sharon.

    April 18, 2014

  • Tech waste eyed for new contact

    The current Hermitage solid waste contract was designed to increase recycling while reducing the amount of garbage placed at the curb, and it has lived up to its promise.

    April 18, 2014

  • WaterFire Rekindled

    WaterFire Sharon has chosen themes for its festivals to be held on three Saturdays in downtown Sharon. “Elements” will be the theme July 19, “Origins” for Aug. 23 and “Motion” for the Sept. 27 celebration.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 17, 2014

    Man arrested for running from accident scene

    UPMC, Southwest eyeing security at hospital

    Crashes cause diversion of Interstate 80 traffic

    Court supports prison term in chase case

    Woman gets 5-10 years in crash that killed officer

    April 17, 2014

  • Officials pledge support to sewer project

    Publicly declaring their intention to donate county land to the Upper Neshannock Watershed Authority, Commissioners Matt McConnell and John Lechner said there’s no need for Commissioner Brian Beader to worry about the loss of the sewer project at the Interstate 80/Route 19 interchange.

    April 17, 2014

  • Griswold Avenue fire Neighbors tried to save victim

    As flames and thick smoke poured out of a Sharon house Tuesday evening, neighbors rallied to try and save the man who lived there alone.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woman nabbed, sister sought in assault

    Southwest Mercer County Regional police have arrested a Hermitage woman for breaking into a home in Farrell and beating a woman and are seeking the alleged assailant’s sister.

    April 16, 2014

  • Despite good deeds, man going back to prison

    Linda K. Kretzer had nothing but praise for Raymond C. McKelvey.

    April 16, 2014

  • 15-year-old legal battle returning to county court

    State Supreme Court has let stand a Superior Court decision sending a landmark medical malpractice case back to Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

    April 16, 2014

  • Southwest mulls how to adopt study points

    Even though some members of the Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department had little respect for a study of the department completed by a consultant, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. pledged to implement as many of the study’s recommendations as he could.

    April 16, 2014

  • Beader plans to resign, just not yet

    Democratic Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader acknowledges that he intends to resign, but said nothing will happen until after he meets privately with the county’s judges next Thursday.

    April 16, 2014

  • Wildlife fund for park Aiding Buhl Farm animals

    Some of Steven Jubelirer’s fondest memories of his mother, Natalie, was when they would walk together in Buhl Farm park, Hermitage.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • News briefs from April 15, 2014

    Man charged with attack on his wife in Walmart

    Woman arrested for stabbing man with knife

    3 injured in pickup-motorcycle crash

    April 15, 2014