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Prayer in public meetings debated in Greenville

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To pray or not to pray. The Greenville City Council took the issue head on Monday night.

A national non-profit group sent a letter to the Mayor of Greenville demanding the council stop praying before city meetings.

For years, city council members have opened meetings with an invocation. For some, that means a moment of silence, for others it's a prayer.

"I do offer a prayer. But it is a non-denominational, non-sectarian, non-theist prayer," said Council member, Marion Blackburn.

But that tradition came under attack this week when Madison, Wisconsin-based, Freedom From Religion Foundation (or FFRF) sent Mayor Allen Thomas a letter demanding separation from Church and State.

Thomas posted the letter on his Facebook page Tuesday.

The group's attorney, Patrick Elliot, says he sent the letter on behalf of FFRF after they received a complaint from a Greenville resident about opening with prayer in city council meetings.

"We don't know who that may be. Whether it's someone with city government or someone who is just a citizen of concern who decided to make this an issue. But we feel we'll take it seriously," said Mayor Thomas.

Thomas says he stands by the city's tradition.

"And we're also going to be sure that we stay rock solid with the foundations of our community," he said.

Several people came out to share their opinions Monday night but only those in favor of keeping prayer in meetings.

Nobody opposed to prayer spoke. There were a couple of people who showed up to the meeting and told 9 On Your Side they were against it, but wouldn't go on camera.

The city attorney explained that prayer is allowed in public meetings. However, he said it can not favor any particular religion. For example, you can't say "in Jesus name, Amen." 

Mayor Pro-Tem Rose Glover says she will continue to pray the way she wants to, regardless of the rules. She told the attorney to "get his papers ready."

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