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Roanoke County Board Passes Prayer Policy E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Wednesday, 14 November 2012

After a letter objecting to their invocation policy and practice was sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors has rewritten the policy. The new approach will still start meetings with an invocation delivered by a local clergy member, invited from a list of clergy of all faiths, in an effort to ensure diversity. Any clergy who responds to the invitation will be eligible to lead an invocation, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The new policy is 12 (!) pages long and includes this instruction to those who volunteer:

This opportunity is voluntary, and you are free to offer the invocation according to the dictates of your own conscience.

To maintain a spirit of respect and ecumenism, the Board requests that the opportunity not be exploited as an effort to convert others to the particular faith of the invocation speaker, nor to disparage any faith or belief different than that of the invocation speaker. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit opined in Joyner v. Forsyth County, 653 F.3d. 341, 349 (4th Cir. 2011), that prayers at the opening of legislative sessions “must strive to be nondenominational so long as it is reasonably possible [;] should send a signal of welcome rather than exclusion [;] should not reject the tenets of other faiths in favor of just one [; … and may not] repeatedly suggest the government has put its weight behind a particular faith.” The Court further instructed the deliberative body to “be proactive in discouraging sectarian references” to avoid “occasional” references from becoming too “frequent” when the invocations are viewed as a collective. The County requests that you comply with these court guidelines accordingly.

 The Board hopes and believes this system will avoid church-state trouble, not only because of the selection process, but because of the request that those leading the prayer strive to be nondenominational (just after assuring them of the freedom to offer any kind of invocation they like.)

Is this protection enough?

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