The Augusta Commission has opened its semimonthly meetings with a mostly Christian religious invocation for as long as most anyone can remember, although the city adjusted procedures for the mayor’s prayer breakfast after a 2012 legal challenge filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
A narrowly divided U.S. Supreme Court declared Monday that decidedly Christian prayers are appropriate at the start of such meetings, and their content is not significant, so long as prayers don’t denigrate non-Christians or attempt to win converts.
Augusta Deputy City Clerk Nancy Morawski said her office arranges for a pastor, rabbi or occasionally, an imam to give the invocation at the start of each commission meeting.
The officials are generally, but not exclusively, the heads of Augusta congregations, and are selected based on availability from a list the office keeps, Morawski said.
“We need more prayer,” said Rev. Marion Williams, currently the only pastor serving on the 10-member commission.
Two years ago, another city prayer tradition – the mayor’s prayer breakfasts, established by Mayor Deke Copenhaver in 2005 – was upset when the Freedom from Religion Foundation challenged former mayoral executive assistant Karyn Nixon’s role in coordinating the breakfasts.
After the atheist and agnostic group demanded access to records associated with the monthly breakfasts, which rotate through Augusta churches, and determined the only expenditure of city resources was Nixon’s time, responsibility for coordinating the events was turned over to a church group.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.