RAPID CITY, S.D. — The Rapid City Council has voted to draft a policy on prayer after a nonprofit group asked the council to end its practice of beginning meetings with an invocation.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation advocates the separation of church and state and says a compromise would be for the council to hold a moment of silence rather than a prayer before meetings. City leaders say they don’t have any plans to change their tradition. The prayers have been conducted by local ministers since at least the 1960s, according to KNBN-TV.
The council on Monday night decided to have staff draft a policy on the matter aimed at helping the city defend itself in court. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has said it plans to become involved in lawsuits on the issue of prayer at public meetings, though it has not explicitly said Rapid City would be a target.
Pastors and other residents on Monday night spoke for 40 minutes in favor of continuing the prayers, citing the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers, longstanding tradition and the need for God to guide Rapid City as valid reasons, the Rapid City Journal reported.
“My generation, my children and my grandchildren need to be able to look at their peers and know they seek out God’s wisdom,” Roy Best said. “Because any time God is taken out of our government in any way, that country starts to slide into chaos.”
Only two of the 15 people who testified opposed the prayers. Cole Bedford, a senior at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and a self-described atheist, said he favored a moment of silence. It is important for non-Christians to know they have an equal voice in government, a message that holding religious prayers does not send, he said.
“This is not a challenge to anyone’s faith. It’s an appeal to your empathy,” he said.
The council will review a draft policy in about six weeks.