LEAGUE CITY — With a hint of enthusiasm in his voice, Mayor Tim Paulissen welcomed Ralph Bryant to the May 27 City Council meeting.

It had been seven months since prayer had been an official part of City Council meeting, and Bryant, minister of League City Church of Christ, was selected as the one to return a reflection of faith to city government.

League City Council isn’t the only governing body in Galveston County to have prayer as part of its meetings. In fact, almost every city and the county commissioners start their meetings with a prayer.

Some invite local pastors to offer the message. Others ask a member of the governing body to offer words of faith.

Some of the county’s school boards avoid praying as part of the meetings but do ask for a moment of silence.

League City targeted

League City was singled out by Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group said it received a complaint from a resident who argued that prayer at the council meetings violates the U.S. Constitution.

To avoid legal action, the city adopted a policy that officially kicked prayer out of the meeting.

The ordinance, crafted with help from The Liberty Institute, a Plano-based nonprofit law firm that regularly takes up religious issues, moved prayer out of the meeting.

The Liberty Institute also offered to defend the city at no cost should someone sue over prayer at meetings.

It wasn’t totally gone. While not officially a part of the posted meeting, the city invited local pastors to offer a pre-meeting prayer.

As soon as the word “Amen,” was said, the mayor would gavel each council meeting into session.

A Supreme Court ruling last month found a prayer during a city meeting did not constitute government establishing religion resurrected a council meeting prayer in League City.

Bryant didn’t address the new policy directly, but evoked God as guiding the council’s actions.

“Despite their authority and their abilities, they still need your providential care and guidance,” Bryant said during his prayer.

Support for prayer

Not surprisingly, the city has seen no backlash for its decision. Not yet anyway.

A San Antonio man, who threatened to sue the city over its older policy, hasn’t done so and it is unclear whether he will pursue legal action, given the Supreme Court decision.

“It’s unfortunate but no surprise that League City will continue to impose Christian prayer on its citizens as long as they can get away with it, despite the fact that it alienates League City nonbelievers and religious minorities,” said Elizabeth Cavell, an attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“It remains to be seen how this case will be applied to different factual circumstances in any potential future lawsuits on this issue; but of course this decision does not require a government body to open public meetings with prayer.”

Most residents who participated in a Daily News survey support the move.

“Our country was founded on Christianity,” said former League City Councilwoman and now county Republican Party Chairwoman Barbara Meeks. “By all means, let us pray, whether by the governing body or a guest minister.”

League City resident Jerri Hamachek said she has no issue either, but offered a different approach.

“Out of mutual respect to all, maybe just a silent moment for folks to do whatever they choose to do with that time,” she said. “If you want to pray, then pray. If not, then don’t.”

Mark LeDoux lives in Texas City, but is a minister for the Universal Life Church.

“I believe people should leave their religions at home or place of worship,” he said.

He was among the more than 100 people who took part in an online debate about the issue of prayers at governmental meetings.

No outside prayers

The League City policy might still have its pitfalls. For example, while changing the ordinance to return prayer to the official council meeting, it still maintains that only those religious organizations within the city limits would be invited to offer the prayer.

It’s a policy Paulissen said he’d like to revise to allow the city to reach out to organizations outside the city limits, particularly those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths. There are no synagogues or mosques in the city limits.

“I think prayer on behalf of the public should represent all the people who live in that area,” said Rabbi Stuart Federow, head of the Congregation Shaar Hashalom.

The rabbi said he had been invited before to offer a prayer, but his schedule conflicted with his ability to make the meeting.

That was, however, before the revised ordinance. Since it was changed in the fall, he has not been invited and there are no city records showing anyone other than Christian leaders having been asked to give the prayer.

Shaar Hashalom is in the Clear Lake area and not League City. It and the Temple Beth Tikvah are the closest Jewish worship centers to the city.

Each has members from League City.

Reaching other faiths

The closest mosque or Islamic Center also is outside the city. Imams for those institutions could not be reached for comment.

According to a study done by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, Muslims account for the county’s second largest faith group behind Christianity.

That same study found that 45 percent of the county’s population do not claim to be members of any particular faith-based organization.

City spokeswoman Kristi Wyatt said while the mayor has expressed an interest in reaching out to other groups outside the city limits, but any change to policy “would have to be adopted by City Council.”

The night the council voted to bring back prayer to the council meetings, Mark Johnson, pastor of Life Fellowship Church, provided the pre-meeting prayer.

His church, while drawing several members from League City, is in the city limits of Kemah.

Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or tjaulds@galvnews.com.

(19) comments

Greg Szanyi

I personally have no objection to prayer either way. But what kind of message does this send to the thousands of high school students around the nation that have lost the priviledge of saying a prayer before a sporting event such as a football game. Just a few years ago a group of students from Santa Fe High School took their plea all the way to the Supreme Court only to be shot down because of the "Separation of Church and State" rule. Now here we have a goverment body wanting to pray before a city council meeting. It sounds to me like a double standard going on here and hypocritical as well. In my humble opinion "Whats good for the goose; should be good for the gander." If there is going to be new law concerning prayer in public places and goverment facilities; then the law should be applied equally to all citizens and meeting places including all sporting venues.

Carlos Ponce

A few years after the Santa Fe decision I attended a Santa Fe football game played at Huffman-Hargrave Stadium. At the beginning of the game, a young lady led everyone in prayer ending with the words "In Jesus name we Pray." No one objected. A Santa Fe Lady asked "Why can't we do that?" Due to stadium conditions, the Hitchcock - Santa Fe game was moved to Santa Fe Stadium one year. Hitchcock did the pre-game on Santa Fe's field. Following the "Star Spangled Banner", the Hitchcock trumpeters began playing "Amazing Grace". No one objected. You're right, the law should be applied equally to all citizens and meeting places and sports venues. Since prayers usually are said at the very beginning of such events, if you object then show up a little late.

Kevin Lang

How would you react to the Hare Krishna being sung before the game? How do you think others would react? Ignore, or show up late sounds fine. Just wondering what happens when the shoe's on the other foot.

Carlos Ponce

Is there an area team with a large Hindu following? Let me put it this way, as a visiting team, when the home team plays their "Alma Mater" (Latin for "Kind or bountiful Mother") we politely stand and hear it. Do public school teams object when prayer or song is offered when visiting Galveston's O'Connell, Bay Area Christian, Houston's St. Thomas, Lutheran North, Lutheran South, Pope John XXIII, Concordia Lutheran, Marian Christian, etc. ? You're in East Texas and Hare Krishna is rarely sung except in George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord". And if they do sing "My Sweet Lord", so what? We would politely stand out of respect just like with their "Alma Mater".

George Croix

It's freedom OF religion...not freedom FROM religion...
Assuming 'progressives', atheists, and other life forms can read, try again to find 'separation of church and state' in the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
The actual one, not the one made up in your head...

The grievance du jour is to be 'offended' by something.
I think that is what's offensive...

Lars Faltskog

If a prayer helps an individual be a kind and humanitarian indvidual, and if the prayer sets the business at hand on a positive footing, then there isn't anything "wrong" with having one.

However, as kevinjlang points out, all it takes is perhaps one Hindu, one Hare Krishaner or one Wicca to want to launch a prayer. Then, what are we to do?

We all have our biases and cultural standards. I was raised, unfortunately, to believe that the power of the Holy Spirit would not be in force if an ordained Catholic priest were not officiating the evocation(s). So, what value is it to have a municipal public servant to summon up a kum bahya prayer.

So, in reality, it often strikes me that trying to do any prayer at a public event (whether it be a city hall, school basketball gymnasium or whatever) is rather childish, ineffective, and non-productive. Is it any different than when we were little children forced to pray at the dinner table before the family roast beef, mashed potato, and skillet green beans dinner? Another question would be: Are these prayers at events really necessary? Can't we pray before we get there, or at the Golden Corral after the city or school sport event is over?

Carlos Ponce

At Baccalaureate and Graduation services the students involved select one from their number to lead a prayer. So far I have not seen such a service where a Wicca, Hare Krishna or any non-Christian was selected. I beg to differ in that offering prayer is "childish". Rather it is with "childlike" confidence that we offer our prayer to the Lord. Too bad it means so little to you. Otherwise it would be effective and productive.
Eph 5:18-20" Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father."

Lars Faltskog

Today's BIBLE verse! -

MATTHEW 6:7 -

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words."

Kevin Lang

So, we can count on everyone to sit quietly and respectfully should someone of another faith be offered the chance to open the meeting, or lead his team, with a prayer from his faith? What would you say to parishioners that have a big hissy fit about that pagan spewing words from his blasphemous religion? For generations, the "worst" that the "devout" Presbyterians had to endure was some Catholic priest singing some Latin phrases that no one understood.

Especially over the past 13 years, there have been a lot of people in this country offended by Muslims praying in public, or wearing their religious head coverings out in the open.

So, my point is, is it reasonable for Christians to openly practice their religion out in public while expressing a belief that Muslims, for instance, are free to practice whatever religion they choose, as long as they keep it to themselves?

In my opinion, the people cheering League City for its exercise of public prayer are also highly supportive of Moonies chanting in airport terminals.

I'm all for League City doing this. As long as they're willing to tell anyone that complains about the act that they are welcome to come open the next meeting.

George Croix

The anal retentive fear that someone might object to something is crippling this country, just as allowing one person's complaint to override all other folks has.
That's what comes of being raised to think that just because you can, you should.
If everybody gets to decide the outcome, then nobody is in charge, and thus nobody ultimately responsible.
That's very 'progressive' politically, but highly regressive as a way to run a country, or much of anything else...
At some point enough people will tire of it...it's not if...it's when...

Kevin Lang

I think what's crippling us more is the adamant desire to do things in order to see just how many people we can make complain excruciatingly loudly.

In a democracy, you'll never make everyone happy. It's likely that you'll never make anyone happy. The idea is for as many as possible to feel they're getting enough out of the process to remain commited to it, despite not getting everything they want.

I think that you've mentioned many a time that we should all have some skin in the game. Maybe that's not the same as deciding the outcome, but it is being part of the process, and therefore part of the responsibility. If you want a system where we can always find that one person to tag with responsibility, you don't want a democracy. Maybe a monarchy or dictatorship, but definitely not any kind of representative government.

George Croix

I didn't say ONE person in charge & ultimately responsible.
I said if everybody gets to decide, then NOBODY is in charge, and ultimately responsible. Big place...lots of people in charge. Each ultimately responsible to the folks who elected them...IF those folks pay attention, and don't do too much assuming....or taking...
In a representative democratic republic, like ours was before our monarch wannabe decided a 'pen and a phone' trumps 230 plus years of Constitutional inspired governance, a lot of people are co-equally responsible for the ultimate direction of the country. Again, IF anyone is paying attention.
That's why the current Ideologue in Chief has set such a dangerous precedent, personally and via sycophants like Reid. The Senate has become a legislative graveyard, the only purpose of which is to get as many Presidential appointees as possible into position via the blowing up of over 2 centuries of tradition and procedure.
POTUS' 'we can't wait' usurpation is a perfect fit with what passes for his base. A base that would think it's a good idea for one person to give himself power to bypass, for whatever and whenever he wants, the rest of the elected reps of the voters. Can't fix that...
Representative government requires negotiation and compromise.
Two little words 'We won' set the tone that there would be none of that, and dozens of bills languishing in the Senate since, never to even be LOOKED at, much less debated, put the nail in the coffin.
Blame the Republicans for 'obstructing'?
How dumb can people be? Obviously, very.
The way our government works (or, used to, BO...) is the legislative branches are SUPPOSED to rein in Executive power when the voters elect opposing Parties. That's the whole idea of co-equal government.
Evidently, a few decades of liberal NEA directed schooling has failed to get that little tidbit planted in the fertile minds of our future voters.
Care to guess why that is...?
We are not seeing a normal cycle here of change and go one way awhile then change and go another way a while and kind of twist and turn a little in between. We're seeing fundamental (rememebr that word...?) change.
The core rewrite of the economy, jobs, energy, business, national security, taxing authority....the national car hasn't just been painted and new tires put on. The horn button was jacked up and a new car driven under it.
The irony is that liberals and 'progressives' are not to blame for it...they are just opportunistically taking what they can get for themselves and worrying about the rest some other time, if ever. No, my fellow conservatives get the nod, for managing to snatch defeat from victory in 2008 by splitting the vote or staying away from a weak candidate, thus allowing an even weaker one to win, and doing it again in 2012, only worse, millions more not even voting than in 2008. THEY gave the country to this President for 4 extra years.
How's that worked out???
The other irony is that in staying away from a weak candidate, we elected the weakest President in living memory...or longer. One unable to grasp and use the simplest concepts of leadership and humility and accepting personal responsibility, fit only to divide and deceive and stoke class envy to cover his own failures.
Well, there I go again, dwelling on the obvious...[wink]
About time for another break...

Kevin Lang

Both the House and Senate are legislative graveyards or waste dumps. It's very rare these days for any legislation with even a gasp of a chance at life to come out. That's not the intent of either body right now. Intake (dollars) and excrement (in various forms) is the best we've got. Definitely the President has something to do with it--even some that he actually should be able to take control of.

When the people elect majorities of different parties, they still expect the people's business to be carried out, and they expect that those 535 will figure out how to do it. No one side gets to ram an agenda through. They should be bouncing things back and forth, and pass the things that the country really needs in a way that the country can stomach. Instead, what they do is send over to the other side what they want to do, knowing full well that the other side isn't buying it. They're writing bills out of spite, not a spirit of negotiation. They're playing chicken, and we're losing.

Lars Faltskog

I really think that the folks who are so gung-ho about having prayers before school events, sports, or municipal events are void of thinking "outside the box", as there are many more intellectual and mind-provoking ways to begin a ceremony.

Examples of better ways: A poem from a renowned artist, a thoughtful excerpt from Henry David Thoreau's "I Went to the Woods".

It's just so dad blame easy to say a prayer. Involves no creativity, rote recital, et cetera.

Carlos Ponce

[yawn]

Lars Faltskog

Response to carlosrponce posted at 5:51 pm on Tue, Jun 10, 2014:

Well, ponce...are you saying that you are anti-intellectual? I wouldn't expect that from a former teacher.

You and I both know that to analyze poetry and to discuss and interpret a philosophical piece involves much more higher-level thinking skills than rotely reciting a prayer. Again, saying a prayer is on the thinking level of children and the non-educated masses.

Carlos Ponce

To everything there is a time and a purpose under Heaven. I suggest you go to any local high school and tell the Athletic Director and/or Principal your idea of starting a game with a poem. Football games do begin with a poem. It was written by Francis Scott Key. To tell the truth I have heard beautiful poetry in football stadiums said as prayer to eulogize deceased students, teachers, and board members. It was beautiful because it came from the heart. Also poetry/prayer was offered after National disasters such as 911. And you say "It's just so dad blame easy to say a prayer. Involves no creativity, rote recital, et cetera." Sorry, you don't know what you're talking about.

Lars Faltskog

Carlos:
I do know, and you know perfectly what I am talking about. I think you've mentioned it before. It's Blooms Taxonomy, where higher-level thinking skills are utilized when disecting a poem, discussing a philosophical idea.

Those higher-level thinking skills are not used when one is simply reciting or uttering a poem.

Have you ever heard a really good public speaker? He doesn't read or recite from a podium (as you and your conservative friends accuse "Hussein" Obama of doing). Excellent speakers draw often in a provositional manner. They "dialogue" and speak with the audience, not "to" them.

When we hear someone drone on with a child-like prayer or when we hear a speaker simply reading off of a notebook paper, we go [yawn].

Yes, you know in your heart of hearts that someone reciting a prayer is not using his/her mind in the most intelligent fashion.

Lars Faltskog

Response to kevjlang posted at 7:46 pm on Tue, Jun 10, 2014,
Response to gecroix posted at 4:48 pm on Tue, Jun 10, 2014:

The crux of the matter is that when hundreds of folks are attending a municipal meeting, they are seeking to have solutions to problems such as curbside storm drainage functionality, efficient utilization of traffic lights (and efficient traffic flow in general), solvency in regard to issues such as city noise ordinances, and neighborhood security.

Religious prayer is not the time nor the place in municipal meetings.

When hundreds of parents, children from all walks of cultural and religious life are gathered at a basketball game, they are there to see the teams competing. When they are convened for a graduation ceremony, they are there to celebrate the accomplishments of their childrens' education. That includes people with names like "Nefertiti Patel" (a Pakistani Gujarati follower), and Mohammed Akbar (a Nigerian Muslim), Alejandro Rabinowitz (a half-Hispanic, half-Jew who came from Bad Bernik, Germany). "Chip Huynh" is a recent immigrant from Taiwan, and his family is religious agnostic - yet Chip happens to be saludatorian.

I have illustrated these fictitious names to emphasize that we are a multicultural, multireligious society in Galveston county. I would venture to say that LC is even more culturally diverse than, let's say, Santa Fe.

Again, religious prayer really has no role in these public, secular gatherings. If one wants to pray, do so before and after the event.

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