Invocation to remain at city council meeting - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Invocation to remain at city council meeting

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Council meetings will continue to open with a prayer. (Source: WAFF file) Council meetings will continue to open with a prayer. (Source: WAFF file)
HUNTSVILLE, AL (AP) -

The Huntsville City Council began Thursday's meeting with a prayer, despite controversy over a Wiccan leader first invited, then dis-invited at a previous meeting.

A moment of silence was suggested, but instead, Debbie Esslinger from the Trinity United Methodist Church delivered Thursday's invocation.

Esslinger called for reconciliation in a message that invoked Gandhi and Zorostrianism. The Interfaith Mission Service said atheists will be invited in the future, too.

"The Golden Rule is universal," Esslinger said.

The Reverend Frank Broyles is the man behind who gets invited to lead the prayer at the beginning of each meeting. He said after the controversy at the last meeting, there was talk of eliminating the prayer altogether and just having the moment of silence.

Broyles said he is happy the Council decided to continue having the prayer, and to learn from past mistakes. He has invited a Methodist to give the prayer at Thursday's meeting, and said a Hindu is next on the list. He also said Blake Kirk, the Wiccan priest who was uninvited from a past meeting, will be invited back before the end of the year.

Council President Mark Russell said the council was not responsible for uninviting Kirk from the last meeting. He said there were no plans to apologize to the Wiccan leader for the incident. He also said it is out of his control whether Kirk is asked back.

"We value the invocation and we want to continue it, using the same process we've used since 2012," Russell said.

Broyles argued it just wasn't the right time for a Wiccan to give the invocation at the last meeting. He said the council wants to provide the prayer as well as support diversity.

"It created enough of a contentious environment to rethink doing it at this time, educate a little better," said the community organizer. "The city attorney said to maybe, more gently approach this at a future date."

Broyles said the attorney advised that the diversity shown at the meeting has to be wide in order to provide the right impact. Broyles said the controversy is part of an ongoing experiment in democracy. Russell said decisions in the courts mean the council has no choice but to open its doors wide.

"If we do a prayer, we have to open it up to everyone," he conceded. "That's Frank's hard decision; nobody knows exactly what the court means by 'everyone.'"

"You pay attention to the public," said Broyles. "The public input matters, but the city council is the final group who makes that final decision."

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