Council changes opening prayer procedures

March 23, 2010

Starting immediately, Akron City Council is changing its opening meeting procedures to exclude prayer as part of the official start of Monday night meetings. Instead, a non-sectarian prayer and Pledge of Allegiance will precede the gavel to signal the meeting's official opening.

As a result, the prayer and pledge will not be recorded on the agendas for the next Council meetings. Further, Council is inviting representatives of diverse religious backgrounds to offer prayers or words of reflection before the meetings.

Council President Marco Sommerville said he hopes the procedural changes will satisfy Akron residents who complained that prayers which opened Council meetings were overtly Christian, and excluded other religions.

"After much discussion among ourselves and with legal counsel, we have decided to change our meeting procedures with regard to opening with prayer," Sommerville (W-3) said. "We will continue to make sure prayers are diverse words of reflection and encouragement."

The prayer issue was recently raised for the second time in three years when a resident complained that the opening prayers were heavily Christian and violated separation of church and state. Council in 2007 discontinued reciting The Lord's Prayer after Americans United for Separation of Church and State threatened to sue the city. Instead, religious leaders from the community were invited to offer non-sectarian prayers at the start of Council's meetings.

Sommerville said the invitation still stands for anyone wishing to offer prayer before the meetings' opening to call Council offices at (330) 375-2256.

In other Council business, Council unanimously adopted a resolution of support for Issue 16, a 1.4 mill, five-year replacement levy to fund the Akron Summit County Public Library.

The issue will appear on the May 4 ballot.

"It's something we need to pass," Sommerville said. "I know things are tough for everybody, but a strong library is something we must have - especially in this economy."

The current 1.4 mill levy - passed in 2004 - provides $12 million, approximately 50 percent, of the Library's total annual operating revenue. As state library funding has been reduced by 25 percent, the library is offering the replacement levy to continue library hours, services and programs through the Main Library, 17 branch libraries and book mobile, as well as to continue free community meeting spaces and wireless access.