IW Supervisors break tradition on prayer

Published 12:44 am Saturday, September 1, 2018

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Local clergy delivered invocation instead of board members


For decades, Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors have begun every regular scheduled meeting with an invocation, delivered by one of the board members. However, this was not the case during the board’s July or August meetings.

In July, when it was Hardy District Supervisor and Chairman Rudolph Jefferson’s turn to deliver the invocation, he instead invited the Rev. James Jones of Rushmere. This month, it was Newport District Supervisor William McCarty’s turn, but instead he invited Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department Chaplain Judy Worrell.

The board has been considering making changes to its invocation policy since August 2017, when County Attorney Mark Popovich informed the supervisors of a July 14, 2017 ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court. The court found that Rowan County, North Carolina’s policy of having a legislative prayer was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the first amendment. Popovich said that Isle of Wight’s legislative prayer policy is worded exactly like that of Rowan County.

Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson confirmed that while the board had yet to make any official revisions to its invocation policy, two individual board members to-date had chosen to ask local pastors to give the invocation in light of the court’s ruling. He added that this gives the board the opportunity to see how another process might work and may serve as an alternative approach that is more in line with the court’s opinion.

In August 2017, Popovich said the county has five options for amending its invocation policy to be in compliance with the Fourth Circuit Court’s ruling: they can allow any citizen in attendance at a public meeting to give an invocation on a first-come, first-serve basis; they can give all religious congregations in Isle of Wight County the opportunity to offer an invocation at each meeting; they can develop a standard, non-sectarian invocation that is repeated at every meeting by a designated Board member; they can dispense with an invocation and hold a moment of silence instead; or they can dispense with the invocation altogether.

Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson said that that county’s Board of Supervisors, by comparison, has invited a member of the audience to give an invocation since October 2017. Prior to that, like Isle of Wight, a board member would deliver an invocation at the start of each meeting.