HAMMOND | Marking a change in tradition, the Hammond City Council observed a moment of silence at Monday's meeting — instead of a prayer.
The change spurred some council members to cite Bible verses in debating the practice at local government meetings.
City Council President Michael Opinker said Monday the Hammond City Council would no longer pray at the beginning of meetings, following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review a case on the constitutionality of the practice.
Councilman Anthony Higgs, D-3rd, who often led the prayer before meetings, said he didn't feel the city was at risk of being sued by continuing the practice. He indicated he planned to arrange a prayer vigil.
“As for me, I am going to continue to kneel down before I deal with any issues as it relates to the city of Hammond,” Higgs said at the end of Monday's meeting.
Councilwoman Janet Venecz, D-at large, said she chooses to pray in the privacy of her own home. She read a verse from the Book of Matthew that calls on followers to “...go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father.”
Higgs responded by saying if the council wanted to “get Biblical” in the conversation, another verse warns about denying Jesus Christ.
The Supreme Court announced in May it will review a lower court's ruling barring Greece, N.Y., from allowing prayer at the beginning of Town Board meetings.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 the decade-long practice of the Town Board inviting local chaplains to conduct an opening prayer violated the First Amendment because the majority of the prayers carried Christian messages.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. sent council members information on the case, calling to attention Hammond's practice of holding a prayer at meetings had similarities to the New York town's prior practices.