Ga. Council Says No to Prayer-Pushing Member: Bill Dunn

Elizabeth “Betty” Price found out that wealthy, God-fearing Christians on city councils don’t always get their way, even in Georgia. Price, newly elected to the Roswell City Council last November, said before she took office that she wanted to start meetings with prayer. It seemed to her, she said, that civility had been lost.

“I hope that through starting our meetings with an invocation, perhaps it could set the overall tone to one of reconciliation and better relations,” said Price, outlining her goals as a council member.

She and her husband, U.S. Rep. Tom Price, are both physicians, with respective specialties in anesthesiology and orthopedic surgery. Roll Call listed him 42nd on its list of the 50 wealthiest members of Congress, with self-disclosed assets of $7 million. He’s chairman of the Republican Study Committee, which operates on the right flank of the GOP.

After Price’s prayer idea was reported in the Feb. 10 Roswell Neighbor, a local complainant contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a letter of objection to Mayor Jere Wood and the council. The Neighbor had quoted Wood suggesting “we all commit to recommending people to come say the prayer, and each council member, not staff, would be responsible for getting those people to some meetings every year.” If the person invited by a council member didn’t show up to pray, the council member would lead the prayer, Wood said. He was wary of putting more burdens on city staff.

In the Foundation’s letter, attorney Rebecca Markert said the council had no business opening public meetings with “religious ritual prayer.” (The Foundation has about 260 Georgia members, and room for lots more.) Asking citizens to rise and pray, even silently, at a public meeting goes beyond the scope of secular government, Markert said. “They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time.”

At a March 8 meeting of the city’s Administration and Finance & Recreation and Parks Committee, council members reported on community feedback. From the meeting minutes: “Most of the council members said the people they have talked to in the community were not in support of prayer at the council meeting. . . . There was not support from most of the council members to have prayer at the beginning of council meetings so this item will not move forward at this time.”

Wood declined to place Price’s proposal on the formal council agenda for a vote.

The Neighbor reported council member Nancy Diamond’s comment: “I’ve been approached in the grocery store. Everyone wants to talk about this. I’m surprised because I thought I’d get more people wanting to do prayer. But I now feel like some people are going to be uncomfortable every time we [pray], and I don’t know how to get around that.” Council member Becky Wynn added: “I’ve found the same thing when I go out. Probably 80 percent of the people are saying to me no, don’t do it.”

 Also reported was Price’s comment that “Being challenged [legally] would be a wonderful thing. Getting back to the roots of our country would be an even more wonderful thing.”

Price later claimed she meant being personally challenged to stand up for your beliefs and not a legal challenge: “We pledge allegiance to a nation under God, yet we seem to be fearful to utter God’s name. Sometimes that fear to mention God is a profound ignorance of the world as it was before these United States were founded on the bold concept that all men are created equal by God. . . . Sometimes that fear of God is a resistance that we may have to conduct our lives by a moral code we do not wish to embrace.  Sometimes a group may have the anomalous fear that they will offend someone who does not wish to honor God.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation