Prayer Debate at Council Work Session Heats Up

NEWBURGH – For many years, Newburgh City Council meetings began with a prayer, most often by a Christian clergyman. But, with concern that it may exclude other faiths, the council recently decided to replace the prayer with a moment of silent meditation.

That compromise came from Mayor Torrance Harvey and Councilman Anthony Grice, both saying they are God-fearing Christians but see the silent prayer as a compromise and not offend members of other faiths.

Rev. Ron Trancalli, a member of the Newburgh Christian Ministers Fellowship, supports prayer saying to pray silently does not have the same effect; that God does not hear it as he does when the word is spoken.

“To take prayer and sort of slip it under the rug, I think it would not be a good thing for us,” Trancalli told Thursday night’s city council workshop session.

Councilwoman Hillary Rayford, an ordained minister, had an emotional response to the compromise of a silent prayer.

“God didn’t tell us to shut up when it comes to pray, he said keep praying,” Rayford said. “He said keep praying, pray without ceasing, so nobody can shut us up anymore.”

Civil rights attorney Michael Sussman, though, sees it differently.

“If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be a prayer at the council meeting at all; it’s not really appropriate,” Sussman said. “It’s a civic body. It’s not a religious body. For those who want to bless it, they can say a prayer to themselves, they can bless it however they want. But it’s really an inappropriate intermingled of things which are not under our constitution supposed to be intermingled.”

No council decision has been made at this point about switching back to a spoken prayer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email