TAMPA — Leaders from several Tampa Bay cities say they see the invocation before a government meeting as an opportunity to inspire and give guidance, not a way to champion a religious point of view.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday allowing decidedly Christian prayers before council meetings won’t change their course; instead, it validates the approach they’ve followed for years, they said.
In Tampa, council members use a rotation system to select local religious leaders to give the prayer before Thursday’s council meetings, or the council members themselves lead the prayers.
Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said the prayer gives people a moment to reflect on something meaningful before the meeting begins.
“It’s about life itself,” Miranda said. “It’s a lesson in life. We will continue to do this the same way.”
St. Petersburg city council follows a similar approach, with a rotation of religious leaders leading a prayer before council meetings. If no one is available on a particular day, council Chairman Bill Dudley or another council member will lead the invocation.
Dudley said such prayers before local government meetings are not an attempt to convert anyone or impose a religious view.
“It’s a prayer for guidance and wisdom to do what you’re elected to do,” Dudley said. “We are not establishing religion.”
Michael Dunn, spokesman for the city of Temple Terrace, said Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura leads a general, inclusive prayer for the community before city council meetings.
“It’s a prayer of good faith,” Dunn said. “It doesn’t invoke any particular religion.”
“We don’t want anyone to be offended,” Dunn said. “It’s a respectful thing to do. We have a really diverse community, both culturally and ethnically.”
Plant City also uses a rotation of local religious leaders to lead the invocation before its city council meetings.
There’s no agenda on the prayers and no wording they are advised not to use.
“It’s up to them,” said Plant City attorney Ken Buchman. “It’s their First Amendment right.”
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling won’t bring about any changes to the way Plant City starts its meetings, said interim City Manager Dave Sollenberger.
“It’s a good thing to get it finalized and know where you stand,” Sollenberger said.