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Prayer common at area meetings

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision that prayer before government meetings is constitutional has validated a practice that is widely embraced across western Kentucky. 

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution, even if they routinely stress Christianity. In a 5-4 decision, the court said that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion. This is the second time the court has upheld prayer before government meetings.

Out of 13 western Kentucky counties - Ballard, Caldwell, Carlisle, Calloway, Crittenden, Fulton, Hickman, Graves, Livingston, Lyon, Marshall, McCracken and Trigg - and in the cities of Murray, Mayfield and Paducah, the majority of meetings begin with prayer. Those prayers can be said by pastors, magistrates, judge-executives or commissioners.

Paducah Mayor Gayle Kaler said that she instituted a rotation of pastors from area churches in an effort to be more inclusive.

"I was glad to hear the ruling," Kaler said. "I just think it's extremely important, especially in Paducah. It gives me strength when I hear people sincerely praying for us to make those important decisions. Prayer is positive energy."

The ruling came after the New York appellate court ruled that Greece, a small town in upstate New York, had violated the First Amendment by having continuously Christian prayers at its meetings. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the practice of having one Christian prayer after another amounted to the town's endorsement of Christianity. The Supreme Court overturned that decision this week.

Among local counties, Calloway, Carlisle, Graves, Marshall and McCracken do not open meetings of county commissions or fiscal courts with prayers. In Murray, the city has a moment of silence before each meeting.

Caldwell County Judge-Executive Brock Thomas said he sometimes opens the meeting himself with a prayer.

"I think it's very appropriate," Thomas said. "Generally, those prayers are geared toward helping us do business that benefits the county and the people. It's an important part of the process."

Crittenden County Judge-Executive Perry Newcom agreed, saying he hasn't had any complaints over the county's prayers before meetings. He said it's commonplace in western Kentucky.

Trigg County Judge-Executive Hollis Alexander was just as adamant.

"It belongs at a meeting," Alexander said. "We need prayer at these meetings. We want prayer at our meetings every single time."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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