MONROEVILLE (KDKA) — The Lord’s Prayer, which is said at the beginning of every borough council meeting in Monroeville, is now causing a controversy.
The ACLU is threatening to file a lawsuit unless the borough stops opening its meetings with the prayer.
And at their latest meeting, on Thursday night, for the first time in many, many years, the borough’s mayor did not lead the gathering in reciting the prayer.
For decades, the Monroeville Borough Council has opened its meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. They’ve never gotten a complaint, until now.
“Every meeting, they’ve recited the Lord’s Prayer, which from my understanding, is a strictly Christian prayer. I’m Jewish. I wasn’t very familiar with it,” said Josh Allenberg, who opposes government led prayer. “To me, shows favoring one religion over another.”
Allenberg is a first-year law student at Duquesne University. He’s interested in Monroeville politics. He even serves on an advisory board for the borough.
“Elected officials cannot be leading prayers,” he says. “On top of that, governmental boards can’t be shown favoring one religion over another.”
But Monroeville’s mayor believes prayer is necessary. He says he can’t believe it’s being opposed.
“It’s very sad that we have come to this, taken what’s happened in California. Not just Monroeville, but I think the whole country needs a lot of prayer,” says Mayor Greg Erosenko.
Even so, the mayor says he’ll take the advice of the borough solicitor and avoid a costly legal battle.
“This politically correct stuff’s getting old, but it’s part of our world, so I’ll adhere to it,” he says.
“Anyone has the right to prayer where and when they want, but government officials, elected officials, they can’t do it at public meetings,” Allenberg says.
Allenberg says he’d prefer a chaplain coming in for a blessing prior to the council meetings.
However, the citizens that attended Thursday night’s meeting say they’re not going to let one person’s views on prayer get in the way of their constitutional rights, including one man who’s of Jewish faith.
“I’m not offended by the prayer. I’m offended by the ACLU who has threatened to sue this municipality,” resident Len Young said.
Young started reciting the Lord’s Prayer during the public comment session of the meeting, and almost everyone there recited it with him.
But the ACLU says courts have a say in all of this.
Vic Walczak, of the ACLU, tells KDKA they’re willing to fight in court. Walczak says government cannot choose one religion over another.
“The courts have said that government leaders cannot start meetings with a particular denominational prayer they say over and over again at every meeting,” says Walczak.
Walczak suggests instead a moment of silence at the beginning of each meeting, unless leaders of different faiths came in on a rotating basis.
“The message that that sends is that there is a preferred faith and people who belong to that feel like insiders, and anybody who is not part of that comes in and immediately is made to feel like an outsider,” he said, “so its divisive and its really not appropriate in this kind of setting.”
Meanwhile, the mayor says he will do what he can to make the right decision for the municipality.
“I’m going to rely on our legal counsel to give us appropriate advice. I don’t want to put this municipality in jeopardy financially if you will,” said Mayor Erosenko.