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Residents pack Saline County board meeting to support keeping prayer

  • County board chaplain and vice chairman Joe Jackson opens Thursday's meeting with a prayer, as the chaplain does each county board meeting.

    County board chaplain and vice chairman Joe Jackson opens Thursday's meeting with a prayer, as the chaplain does each county board meeting.
    Travis DeNeal/Harrisburg Register

  • The main floor of the courthouse was overflowing with residents who had been told a suggestion was made to end the practice of opening county board meetings with prayer.

    The main floor of the courthouse was overflowing with residents who had been told a suggestion was made to end the practice of opening county board meetings with prayer.
    Travis DeNeal/Harrisburg Register

 
 
updated: 1/26/2018 6:27 PM

SALINE COUNTY -- To say some Saline County residents had grave concerns about a request to remove opening prayer from the start of each county board meeting may be an understatement.

An hour prior to Thursday's meeting, members of various churches from across the county already had filled the gallery in Saline County's Courtroom One, used to hold most board meetings.

Anticipating an overflow crowd, the county had a projection screen with a live video feed ready for those who couldn't squeeze into the meeting room.

County employee Jeremy Stroud was the focus of Thursday's meeting. He said his request was not specifically asking to put an end to the opening prayer.

During discussion of prayer before the meeting, State's Attorney Jayson Clark was asked to address the constitutionality of opening a meeting with a prayer.

Clark said based on two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, he does not believe Saline County's custom is unconstitutional.

"Prayer fits within the tradition of legislative prayer followed in this country for the last 200 years," Clark said the Supreme Court wrote in a decision about three years ago. "As long as prayer follows that practice, it's OK."

Citizen Marti Craig, who also is a county employee, said she feels as a Christian that the county should continue the practice.

"A few months ago, here at a meeting, the county board said a prayer and said the Pledge of Allegiance. I got a little teary-eyed because I was proud. I was truly proud. One of things they said was that they wanted God to give them direction. I don't know what better guidance than guidance of Jesus Christ," Craig said. "Many in this place that feel the same way. I truly feel like this community has gone through some catastrophic events. We've seen some hard times. I truly believe if we put our faith in him, he will see us through. When we had the tornado and floods, we survived even when we didn't think we could. That comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. I would like us to continue to pray and to ask our God for guidance."

Stroud, when given the chance to speak, said the person who typed the agenda had lost something in translation.

"Nowhere in that letter did it say said cease prayer," Stroud said. "My attorney advised me to say one thing. What is going on here, the practice is unconstitutional."

Following the meeting, Stroud reiterated that the letter sent to board president Jay Williams never asked to cease opening prayer.

Indeed, a copy of the letter, cites case law and mentions the point that the opening prayer is given by one individual who also is a board member, board chaplain and vice chairman Joe Jackson.

It also notes that the practice categorically excludes all non-Christian faiths. The copy of the letter received by the Harrisburg Register/Eldorado Journal does not contain a request to cease opening prayer.