Format of Board prayers on agenda

Published 12:37 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Do they violate court guidelines?

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors is scheduled Thursday to discuss its meeting invocation practice — one that has often included a prayer invoking Jesus Christ.

The Board meetings begin with an invocation, rotated among the five supervisors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

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One member of the Board, William McCarty, is a pastor at Healing Waters Worship Center — a Christian place of worship — but he is not the only supervisor to have included Jesus in the invocation. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

So far this year, Jesus Christ, or a reference to him, has been invoked at every invocation at regular Board meetings from January through July and every supervisor has done so.

Isle of Wight County’s population is made up of predominantly Christian residents and the only widely known non-Christian established place of worship in the county is the Wat Pasantidhamma Buddhist temple in Carrollton.

Isle of Wight attorney Mark Popovich said the issue is the practice of the Board members themselves giving the invocation, and by referencing a particular religion, it implies an exclusion of those of other religions.

This is a way to get the Board to think differently about the way it conducts its invocation, Popovich said.

A staff report in the Aug. 17 meeting agenda offers options to the current board practice, as well as providing background pertaining to a federal court ruling on the matter.

The staff report cites the case of Rowan County, N.C. where an injunction was filed in U.S. District Court against the Board of Commissioners for violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. After several appeals, a federal court eventually ruled that the Board had violated the Constitution.

The staff report lists five options for the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, including allowing a citizen in attendance to give an invocation, invite all religious congregations to have an opportunity to give an invocation, develop a standard non-sectarian invocation that is repeated, replace the invocation with a moment of silence or get rid of the invocation altogether.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17 at the Isle of Wight County courthouse complex.  {/mprestriction}