STAUNTON -- City Council members will be voting on Thursday on whether to keep the opening prayer a part of their meetings.
The tradition dates back centuries and has been a part of City Council meetings since they began.
However, some Council members would like to see a clearer border between the government and religion.
The debate began after the City Council's meeting on February 28th.
Council member Andrea Oakes was set to give the opening prayer just as she had done for many of the meetings over the last two years.
However, Mayor Lacy King opted to have a moment of silence instead of the invocation.
His decision has led some to believe that there is an effort to remove the tradition from future meetings.
On Thursday, Oakes said the invocation adheres to the U.S. Constitution and a general term of "God" is used during the prayer instead of a specific deity.
"I do not want to be part of a council that has a legacy of getting rid of prayer before city council," she explained. "If we were to get rid of the invocation then we will have done so under our watch and our great-grandchildren will have to explain that. I do not want that to be a part of this City Council's legacy."
At their work session on Thursday, City Council members will have three options to choose from concerning the opening prayer.
One would require the opening prayer before every council meeting; another would have a mix of the prayer and moment of silence, possibly on rotating schedule; and another choice would require only the moment of silence.
According to Oakes, people living in Staunton who have talked to her about the issue have made it clear where they stand.
"We have not had a citizen complain. In fact, the citizens have really responded in an overwhelming manner," explained Oakes. "They want to keep the invocation with City Council."
A decision is expected to be made on Thursday evening before the City Council meeting begins at 7 pm at the Council chambers.
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