BUCKHANNON - Mayor Kenny Davidson on Thursday called for input from the public regarding Buckhannon City Council's practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and observing a moment of silence during its meetings - a practice that was discontinued in March, city officials said.
Since March 6, although Buckhannon City Council meetings have appeared to begin with a moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag, the meetings haven't officially been called to order until the conclusion of those observances.
Previously, meetings were first called to order and then a moment of silence took place, followed by the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, the two rituals are listed under a section titled, "Preliminaries."
The change came about after City Recorder Rich Clemens attended a seminar at a West Virginia Municipal League Conference earlier this year, he told council at its meeting Thursday. Leaders of the seminar recommended the call to order be moved below the Pledge of Allegiance and moment of silence on city council agendas, Clemens said. Clemens said he disagrees with the change, which was recommended because of the threat of lawsuits.
"It's an outgrowth of some of the cities in West Virginia or in nearby states that have been sued over this kind of thing," Clemens said.
Davidson - who said he strongly disagrees with the change - is asking the public to weigh in on the issue.
"I'd like for this community to come out and say that they don't support it (the change)," he said. "If I don't hear anything we're probably going to change it, because I heard that from Council tonight. I'm just trying to give the community an opportunity to protest this kind of thing. I'd like to see letters to the editor (in local newspapers), I'd like to receive phone calls and emails about this."
"I would like for the community to rebel against this," Davidson added.
Stressing he is a U.S. veteran and a Christian, Councilman Ron Rugh expressed outrage at the change, which had not been discussed at any council meetings prior to Thursday's.
"Due to my Christian heritage and my patriotism - because I have served my country - I frankly do not like that suggestion from the Municipal League or from anybody else," Pugh remarked. "I, for one, believe that we should include this after we open the meeting and let's profess our faith because there's not enough people doing that.
"People in our country and in our city are good, God-fearing Christian people," he continued, "and I do not like a minority that comes in and says, 'you can't have your Christian prayers, you can't do anything having to do with the Bible.' I think that's everything the country was founded on, and if it takes a motion right now, I will make a motion that we - I can't make a motion because it's not on the agenda - but I would make a motion if I could that we include this after the meeting is called to order. That just fiercely makes me angry."
Councilman Dave Thomas pointed out that a moment of silence is inclusive of any faith as well as "those who do not have faith."
"And the Pledge of Allegiane?" Thomas questioned. "I think if we stop doing that, we're going to have real issues in our country."
City Attorney Dave McCauley said it's completely legal for a moment of silence to be held and the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited during the meeting - specifically, after it is called to order.
"There is no federal mandate that would prohibit this body from saying the Pledge of Allegiance," McCauley said. "I'm not aware of any whatsoever. Right now moments of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance are not prohibited for governmental bodies. I'll be happy to debate the fellow at the Municipal League."
Davidson may be reached at City Hall, 70 E. Main St., or by calling 304-472-1651 and selecting option 1. Email may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.