The Reverend Paul Buntyn gave the invocation at the San Marcos City Council meeting Tuesday night, when the council passed a resolution calling for the invocations before its meetings to be delivered from all faith traditions. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ED MIHALKANIN
The San Marcos City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday establishing a policy for invocations at council meetings.
Much like the scene last month, when the council first considered the matter, citizens speaking during public comment walked up in long numbers to support invocations at council meetings. All but one of the people speaking Tuesday night lives in San Marcos.
The council’s legislative intent in adopting the resolution is to comply with the constitutional standards for legislative prayers enunciated in Marsh v. Chambers, the 1983 United States Supreme Court case on legislative invocations.
The new policy says invocations are “deemed to be a Constitutional form of government speech rather than private speech.”
The burden of the new policy falls on the city clerk, who now is responsible for setting up a clergy rotation list for invocations and who is directed to “make a concerted effort to include clergy from all faith traditions.” The policy includes an admonition that it “is a privilege and not a right” to say an invocation, and that the opportunity “shall not be exploited to advance any one religion, disparage any other religion or to proselytize.”
The policy further warns that “violations of this policy may result in removal from the rotation list.” The resolution is silent as to who is charged with enforcing that provision.
To forestall any city government employee from being asked to say the invocation in the future, the new policy states that if the designated clergy member is not at the meeting, “a moment of silence shall be observed in lieu of an invocation.”
“The staff followed the direction of the full council, which allows us to continue the prayer process,” San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said.
Residents speaking before the meeting were mostly adamant about maintaining invocations, despite a formal complaint from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas.
Kyle resident Terry Blackstone said, “I think prayer is quite a privilege” adding that it’s “incredible” how “we can access God through prayer.” Blackstone closed his comments by reciting the first stanza of the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
Scott Moneyhan said that “as a Christian” in the community, he is greatly concerned with the issue of prayer at city council meetings. For Moneyhan, the United States is a secular country, but “to call a nation ‘secular’ is not to remove God from the equation.” Moneyhan applauded the work of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of all Americans whether they are Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, or atheist and invited “members of all faiths and non-faiths to come to these chambers and offer up prayers.”
Monica Garcia argued that the United States Constitution allows for an opening prayer at the council meeting because the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause “does not prohibit the government’s entry into (the) religious domain in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise clause.” Because the invocation policy calls for a rotation list of clergy to be established, according to Garcia, the resolution “clearly adheres to the Constitution.” Garcia concluded that it’s truly “up to the response of the clergy being contacted on whether or not they choose to take part in it. I don’t see why Christians should be singled out and not allowed to pray if we are the only ones to show up.”
Ashley Williams simply expressed her gratitude to the council for being willing “to take a firm, unanimous stand on a heated issue – prayer before a council meeting,” and for “accurately representing the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the citizens of San Marcos.”
Joshua Norris opened his remarks by saying, “I believe that it would be a grave mistake to not seek God through our prayers for guidance and wisdom before” council meetings, and, “if we ever decide to put our trust in ourselves instead of Jesus Christ, then I believe that we would lose the very blessings that have been placed over San Marcos.” Norris said, “It is the Lord … who provides guidance to our city.” Norris closed by saying he supports Alamo Draft House coming to San Marcos.
The Reverend Paul Buntyn, who gave the invocation at the meeting, said, “praying in the chambers of government … is not a new thing.” Rev. Buntyn added that when we address “our Creator” at the beginning of council meetings, the city’s actions “will be well with us.” Buntyn closed by saying that he encouraged the council “not to make a stand to eliminate prayer all together,” but to solve any misunderstanding “through dialogue, where the peace of God will always be established.”
Pamela Rose said, “I appreciate your willingness to tackle the hard issues” and supported the council’s decision “to ask for God’s wisdom before making decisions that affect our community.”
Randall Howell thanked the council “for representing me and my family in the things I believe in, one of which is prayer” and for “standing up for your convictions and taking on the good fight and not breaking down when times are tough.”