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
  • CIRT team in Jackson Center Man arrested after shooting standoff

    One Jackson Center man is recovering from a bullet wound, and the borough resident accused of shooting him sits in jail after a long night of drinking that state police say turned into a case of attempted homicide.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sharon Speedway location City on track for new Speedway store

    Speedway is lining up its administrative and bureaucratic cones on plans for the gas station and convenience store chain to zoom into downtown Sharon.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Guards, county OK deal

    County officials and guards at the Mercer County Jail have reached a tentative contract agreement that, if approved, halts the idea of privatizing operations at the facility.

    July 31, 2014

  • Doss: Public has right to know

    A major part of Farrell council’s work session Monday was spent deciding whether or not to inform the audience about an unofficial police proposal from the City of Sharon.

    July 30, 2014

  • Budget falling short despite tax hike

    Farrell residents may have seen an income tax increase this year, but the city isn’t seeing the extra dollars City Manager Michael Ceci budgeted for.

    July 30, 2014

  • oakwood graves 1 Resting together

    Visitors to Oakwood Cemetery would see many  familiar local names if they looked down the hillside to the left just inside the gate on Sharon’s North Oakland Avenue.

    July 30, 2014 3 Photos

  • Police: Kids in car were OK

    The mother of two young children was drunk and passed out when police found them all in a car parked along a city street, Sharon police said.

    July 29, 2014

  • To talk – or not – about police

    The mysterious agenda item, “No. 10,” at Farrell’s council meeting Monday became the center of a heated workshop and business session.

    July 29, 2014

  • Community thanks its first-responders

    Sharpsville honored its emergency responders Sunday at an event that included Mertz Towers residents as special guests.

    July 28, 2014

  • Drilling boom challenges state inspectors

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 28, 2014

  • Kidds Mill Covered Bridge A span of time

    Four generations of the Cadman family have enjoyed the Kidds Mill Covered Bridge, which is in Pymatuning Township near where the family’s ancestral farm is located.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • Intruder hurts woman, takes $5

    A home invasion in Hermitage Friday night sent an elderly woman to the hospital and netted the robber $5.

    July 27, 2014

  • national night out March against crime set for Aug. 5

    At the last Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Commission meeting, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. presented the number of incidents for each of the four communities in May.

    Farrell topped out at 819.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • high street trail Peaceful pathways

    History buffs and picnickers in the Shenango Valley won’t have to drive to Sharpsville to hang out at the old Erie Canal extension lock. They’ll soon have the option to walk or roll in on bicycles and even powered chairs to visit Canal Park near the outflow of Shenango Dam.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • balloonquest1 Balloon Quest celebrates 25 years

    Today is the final day of the 25th annual Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest at Scotland Meadows Park.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo