CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts announced Monday evening that Charlotte City Council will no longer be opening their meetings with a prayer.
The council met Monday for a zoning meeting, but Roberts said the decision regarding prayer was finalized during an earlier dinner meeting. However, several council members say there was no vote and no final decision made regarding the practice of opening with prayer.
"We decided to go straight to the pledge, which is widely accepted and it appeals to everyone and is part of our country. It doesn't offend anyone," said Roberts. "We weren't told that is was unconstitutional or illegal, but we do want to have meetings where everyone is comfortable and feel that they are respected."
City Council members confirmed that the city attorney never said the current practice was unconstitutional or would lead to legal trouble.
"It was not the right decision and it was clearly not done in the right manner. It caught everyone off-guard coming out of a closed session," said Councilman and Mayoral candidate Kenny Smith. "What I have a hard time understanding is that we make more people feel included by excluding others and things they believe."
Smith says that the discussion did not end in a decision and the announcement by the mayor was a surprise.
Mayor Pro Tem and Mayoral candidate Vi Lyles was also surprised.
"I do not believe that was a unanimous decision for moving forward in the future," said Lyles.
Both Lyles and Smith support having a prayer at the beginning of council meetings as long as it follows the law.
"Sometimes the opening prayer is a poem. We have members of different faith on the body," said Smith. "It offered a moment of reflection that was not always prayer."
"I believe that we should have prayer or an expression of our beliefs. But we have to do it within the guidance of the law," said Lyles. "This community is a very diverse community, and I believe everyone should have the opportunity to participate according to their faiths and beliefs."
Mayor Roberts said she would be open to reinstating a non-denominational prayer before meetings if the council got enough feedback from the general public asking that such a prayer be instituted.
"I think it is more that the mayor lost a primary and is on the way out the door, and I think she is looking to create a legacy so to speak," said Smith.
Both Smith and Lyles say the topic of prayer before meetings will continue to be discussed, and both predict the practice will be put back in place.