Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that prayer at public meetings would be permissible under certain circumstances, a number of citizens have requested Brick begin its township council meetings with a prayer.
The council, this week, declined, saying the customary moment of silence offered at the beginning of each council meeting will suffice.
“We are going to maintain a moment of silence so people can reflect as they wish,” said Council President Paul Mummolo.
At the end of 2014, then-council president Susan Lydecker said she would leave the decision up to her successor. Mummolo was supported in his decision by his fellow council members.
“Our moment of silence is for prayer or anything else our citizens want it to be for,” said Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero. “Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to impose on people what my beliefs, your beliefs, or anyone’s beliefs are.”
On certain occasions in Brick, such as the first council meeting of the year or the annual Sept. 11 memorial service, a prayer from a priest, minister or rabbi has been offered. But regular meetings of the township council have, for at least the past several years, begun with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the moment of silence. Oftentimes, the president of the township council will recognize a member of the community who has recently died or a special intention before the moment of silence begins.
Prayer at public meetings is allowed under the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a controversial, 5-4 decision handed down in May 2014. The case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, resulted in prayers being permitted at public meetings as long as the prayer comports with the tradition of the state or national legislature, does not discriminate against minority faiths and does not coerce participation by non-adherents.
In Brick, John O’Rourke, a township resident, had asked council members to begin their meetings with a prayer following the court decision. O’Rourke said an examination of agendas from years past showed Brick’s meetings did, in fact, begin with a prayer from at least 1999 to 2004.
A retired mathematics teacher from St. Aloysius High School in Jersey City and Marist High School in Bayonne, O’Rourke said he is currently a parishioner of St. Dominic Church in town and feels strongly that a public prayer would be beneficial.
“The absence of prayer in the public square is deafening to me,” O’Rourke said at the Jan. 28 council meeting.
Nan Coll, another resident who frequents council meetings, said the decision should not be left up to one person, in this case, the council president.
“I do not believe that one person should put the kibosh on having the meetings start with prayer,” Coll said. “We are in very serious times right now. We need prayer.”
Other residents disagreed.
“Everyone who wants to say their own prayer has a right to do it” during the moment of silence, Richard Gross said.