The town of Dillsboro will open board meetings with Christian prayers delivered by local clergymen following a divided Supreme Court ruling earlier this month that clears the way for invocations.
“They said as long as it’s what your town is used to. And we ain’t got nothing but Baptists in town,” Mayor Mike Fitzgerald told board members May 12. In a follow-up interview, Fitzgerald noted the Supreme Court’s ruling states local governments must make “reasonable” efforts to identify congregations located within its borders.
There are two churches within Dillsboro’s town limits: Jarrett Memorial, a Baptist church built in 1938; and Refuge Church, a nondenominational church that moved last summer into a town storefront.
“We’ve been known for Jarrett Memorial for time immemorial,” Fitzgerald said. “We are not trying to make anybody a Christian. We are just going to ask for a blessing on the town’s decisions.”
Prayer at Dillsboro’s town board replaces a moment of silence. The only other ceremonial opening used in Jackson County to mark the beginning of government meetings is at the school board; members and onlookers stand, face the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. People who “feel excluded or disrespected” by the prayers should ignore them or leave the room, he said.
Justice Elena Kagan countered, however, “when the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines.”