CHARLOTTE – Invocations have returned to Charlotte City Council meetings.
South Charlotte City Councilman Kenny Smith was the one to deliver the invocation Sept. 25 – one week after Mayor Jennifer Roberts said they wouldn’t have one based on the advice of the city attorney.
Turns out that was a misunderstanding, according to City Attorney Bob Hagemann.
“Not having an invocation is 100 percent legally safe,” he said. “If there’s no invocation, there’s no legal argument that the council is engaged in some unconstitutional practice.”
Hagemann gave the council a five-page legal memo of recommended guidelines for invocations. The council’s Governance and Accountability Committee discussed it, too.
Local governments have been discussing the issue given the legal battle over whether invocations in Rowan County are constitutional.
“What our courts have said, the purpose of government invocations is to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect upon shared ideals and common ends,” Hagemann said. “Invocations should be ceremonial and civic in nature.”
They could be moments of silence or inspirational readings.
Hagemann told the council that the prayer was for the group. He advised them against trying to coerce anyone in the audience, as well as directing the audience to stand or participate.
It’s best not to ask the audience to join them in prayer, he said.
“The invocation is a personal expression by the member intended to solemnize our proceedings,” Roberts said. “It is not an endorsement of any particular religious belief. Rather we note and celebrate the diversity of our community, including our religious diversity, and including those that do not follow religion.”
Smith kept his invocation fairly short.
“Heavenly father, we live in uncertain times,” Smith said. “There’s great tension in our city and country. I ask that you bestow your wisdom upon us and help each of us look inward and act outward so that we may make our city and country a better place to live. Amen.”