MYRTLE BEACH — The Myrtle Beach City Council approved a resolution Tuesday that adopts a standard invocation to be read at the beginning of city meetings, aiming to include residents of all faiths.
Councilman Michael Chestnut read the new invocation at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting.
Previously, clergy from different faiths through a ministerial association or members of the council would take turns leading the pre-meeting prayer. The city asked the clergy and the council members to refrain from “sectarian” prayer and avoid calling on a specific deity associated with any one specific faith, something that was not always done.
Telling members of the clergy he or she could not reference any particular deity could be viewed as telling someone how to pray, said city attorney Tom Ellenburg.
“The problem that has occurred is we can’t manage what they say when they get up there,” Ellenburg said during a council workshop Tuesday morning.
Government is not allowed to set the stage for a preferred religious practice and allowing someone to call on a specific deity does just that, he said.
“We have a secular government and we have a separation of church and state,” Ellenburg said. “This [resolution] is to be more inclusive – not exclusionary – while at the same time recognizing the need for divine guidance in our affairs.”
Many council members expressed initial concern about adopting a standard invocation, but agreed the larger goal of inclusion was more important. The council members also said they had no desire to be sued.
City manager Tom Leath cited instances where residents sued governments who held sectarian prayers at meetings and pointed out that the courts have always sided with the residents. But more importantly than avoiding a lawsuit, Leath and other council members said the purpose of the resolution was to be inclusive.
“The threat of litigation is not the anvil over my head. I am most comfortable with the assemblage of words in this prayer,” said Councilman Philip Render at the council meeting.
Resident Mark McBride, former Myrtle Beach mayor, spoke during the morning workshop urging the city to keep prayer in their meetings.
“I would ask that you not take out the prayer,” he said, adding he wouldn’t be able to attend the afternoon meeting. “The only reason I’m here is because of my faith. I would hope that when you take action on this at 2 p.m. we still have prayer in Myrtle Beach.”
But the council and city staff assured him that the new invocation is still a prayer.
“It would not take prayer out of our meetings,” Leath said at the meeting. “It adopts … a solemn and standard invocation that will be used at all meetings and city events.”
Councilman Wayne Gray said the invocation would include all faiths that recognize an almighty creator.
“God hears our prayer and will hear it just as well through this standard invocation,” he said.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.