Boyle County Fiscal Court is changing its long-standing policy of prayer during meetings to a “moment of silence."
An area resident who recently attended a Fiscal Court session was offended by what he believed was a Judeo-Christian prayer and threatened to sue the county if officials did not stop the practice, Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said during Tuesday’s meeting.
At times, the discussion became heated.
Magistrate Phil Sammons said he didn’t like “some idiot trying to tell me what to do” and “if that guy approached me I’d tell him where to go.”
McKinney reminded people several times to keep the discussion as “civil” as possible. He also publicly discussed his Christian faith for what he said was the first time during a public government meeting. McKinney said prayer is about communing with the God of someone’s understanding and that it is traditionally a personal practice.
The judge said what people do in their private lives is their business, but as a government body taxing people of diverse faiths Fiscal Court has a responsibility to make everyone feel welcome.
“Our insurance carrier will not cover us if we are sued for this issue,” McKinney said.
The judge added he did not want to see the county spend years and taxpayers’ dollars fighting a battle it would ultimately lose.
Magistrate Jack Hendricks conducted extensive research through the Congressional Prayer Caucus as well as the Liberty Institute and said the information supports Fiscal Court continuing its long-standing practice of public prayer during meetings.
County Attorney Richard Campbell disagreed with that assessment.
“But to say we can’t (pray during meetings) because of one person is giving in to the minority of people who don’t want this country to survive,” Hendricks said.
Magistrate Dickie Mayes believes 90 percent of his constituents would approve of public prayer during government meetings, about 7 percent “would not care,” and about 3 percent of the area’s residents would be in opposition. Ultimately, Mayes made a motion that Fiscal Court have a moment of silence listed on the agenda and spend that moment in silence during the meetings. The other five magistrates seconded the motion and it passed 6-0.
Hendricks and Sammons, who led an informal prayer about five minutes before the official meeting started Tuesday, said they will continue leading informal prayers either before or after future Fiscal Court sessions.
Anyone who “doesn’t like it” can go to the parking lot or “another country if they want to,” Hendricks said.
McKinney said he thought that private prayer meetings would be fine, but that everyone should remain silent during the “moment of silence” during the meeting and not even whisper their prayers.
Harmon, an ordained minister since the late 1970s, drew applause when he said, “They may stop us praying here publicly, but they won’t stop our prayers.”