Prayers to kick off meetings?

05/06/2010 12:00 AM |

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is pitching a plan to start each Town Board meeting with a non-denominational prayer to be delivered by various local clergy members. He’s also looking into the possibility of appointing a chaplain to the Riverhead Police Department.

The supervisor said he had met Monday with members of the Riverhead Clergy Council and was told they would provide clergy members at no cost.

“I understand the fire district has a member of the clergy council come in and do an invocation before their meetings,” Mr. Walter said at public Town Board work session Thursday. “I believe the state Senate does an invocation. The state Assembly does one. Congress does this.”

Mr. Walter said the invocation would follow the Pledge of Allegiance, which is recited at the start of every board meeting. “We could make it open to any group or person that would want to do it,” he said.

Asked why he wanted a prayer before the meeting, Mr. Walter responded: “If you can have prayer before an assembly meeting or a senate meeting or before Congress, why can’t you do it before the Town Board? Why do you need a reason?”

Some frequent attendees of Riverhead Town Board meetings had mixed reactions to the proposal, with one calling the idea “inappropriate.”

“I think it’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable,” said Pat Fedun, a member of the Riverhead Business Alliance. “Not everyone has the same religion or beliefs. I don’t think it’s going to do anything positive. I think it’s inappropriate.”

“There are other government bodies that do it,” said Sid Bail of Wading River of the Wading River Civic Association. “I guess the trick is to keep it non-denominational.”

One Town Board member, Jodi Giglio, expressed concern. “I just don’t want to be in any violation of separation of church and state,” Ms. Giglio said. “I don’t care either way. I pray every night with my children, but some people might not want to see that on channel 22.”

“I don’t see a downside to it,” Councilman Jim Wooten said. “I think there are a lot of people in this town praying, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t be too.”

Councilmen John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen didn’t attend the meeting.

“I say we roll the dice and see what the public says,” Mr. Walter said during the discussion. “If it gets a tremendous amount of opposition, then we can reevaluate it.”

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