Monday, Oct 15, 2018
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Moment of silence to open Bedford board meetings

Prayer avoided for fear of offending nonbelievers


TEMPERANCE — From now on, the Bedford Township Board will start its meetings with a moment of silence for reflection or prayer. Members decided on the procedure at their meeting last week, after considering several prayers that might be recited.

The moment of silence represents a compromise between those who preferred an invocation and others who were concerned that the public body could be seen as endorsing a particular faith by selecting a prayer for recitation.

The matter dates to December, when Trustee Nancy Tienvieri, a new board member, suggested meetings begin with a prayer led by a guest member of the clergy.

None of her colleagues disagreed with the value of prayer, but some feared that beginning an official public meeting with one could offend non-Christians or nonbelievers or secularists who believed matters of faith were best left private.

In the end, the board decided to forgo even a nondenominational invocation such as: “We are thankful for this day that you have given us, for its blessings, its opportunities, its challenges. May we appreciate and use each day that comes to us. We pray for strength and guidance for each day as it comes, for each day’s duties, for each day’s problems. May we be challenged to give our best always, and may we be assured of your presence with us. Amen.”

The prayer issue appeared on the meeting agenda only as a discussion item, but Supervisor Greg Stewart said he also wanted to take action on the matter one way or another at the meeting.

This elicited a mild objection from Trustee Larry O’Dell, who said he preferred not to have discussion items moved to action items at the same meeting. Mr. Stewart said he understood and agreed and could make it an item for proposed board action at the next meeting. Mr. O’Dell then said he preferred to dispose of the matter at last week’s meeting.

In the discussion, Trustee Rick Steiner cautioned that while a Christian prayer was fine with him, it was not his preference. He recommended the nondenominational prayer quoted above. “We have to take into consideration all faiths and nonfaiths. ... ” he said.

Treasurer Paul Francis noted that callers had phoned the township hall to say they were offended that the board was considering a Christian prayer. He said he did not want to offend anyone with his Christian faith and believed a moment of silence for individual prayer would be the best choice.

Clerk Trudy Hershberger and Mr. O’Dell said they too preferred a moment of silence, and Mr. Stewart expressed concern about the potential for legal liability if the board adopted a prayer.

Ms. Tienvieri noted that Congress, the Michigan Legislature, and Monroe County Board of Commissioners all opened their sessions with prayer and said the township board should do the same. She said that to her, a moment of silence was not prayer, but added she wanted to be cooperative. In the voice vote on a motion by Ms. Hershberger for a moment of silence, she said nothing.

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