Myrtle Beach changes prayer at public meetings

The City of Myrtle Beach is changing the way it council members pray before meetings.

In the past, clergy members would give a prayer, but after a vote Tuesday, that will change.

"{We'll} use the same prayer at every single meeting, an inclusive prayer that doesn't speak to a particular god or religion but one that would include all gods and religions," Myrtle Beach Spokesman Mark Kruea says.

There's a battle in our area over the separation of church and state. Some local school districts and governments have changed their prayer policies after the American Civil Liberties Union started receiving complaints about religion in schools. Under the establishment clause of the first amendment, it's illegal for any public body to force or prohibit a specific religion. The only exception to this is legislative prayer, which is what Myrtle Beach is now doing. As long as the the prayer is offered in a non sectarian way, it's acceptable .

In January, Chesterfield County Schools settled a federal lawsuit over holding a prayer rally at a school assembly and prayers at official events.

The school district admitted to violating the separation of church and state.

Under the consent decree from the judge, school officials may not encourage prayers at events or allow endorsement of religion in the classroom.

The suit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of a middle-school student who objected to the evangelical assembly and other Christian activities at school.

Meantime, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a team of legal experts on religious freedom, sent letters of their own to the school districts warning of intimidation from the ACLU.

"South Carolina is a historically diverse community that was established at a time when our founders were inspired by a time of religious freedom. So anytime we're in touch with that history of respecting diversity of beliefs it's a really good thing. Last month the ACLU sent Freedom of Information act requests to all South Carolina public school districts asking for their policy on religious activity," South Carolina ACLU Executive Director Victoria Middleton said.

In response, the Georgetown County Board of Education pulled prayer before its events.

"This really wasn't a school board decision," Jim Dumm, chairman of the school board, told WCIV when the board changed its policy in September. "We want to make sure that everything we do is following within the guidelines of Supreme Court rulings. And, it's very clear to us now, that we've talked with our attorney, that what we're going to do by having a moment of silence will fall within that ruling."

Middleton says the ACLU's main focus was to protect students in schools.

Kruea a says they're weren't aware of the ACLU letters. Still, both sides are pleased with the city's new prayer.

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