STAFFORD – When the new Stafford Township Council had their first meeting in January, the meeting began with a prayer by Chaplain Randy Giberson. Randy has been very involved in Christian ministries in Southern Ocean County for many years and retired a few years back as a long time Stafford Township employee.
This topic is relevant for Stafford and Long Beach Island due to a recent firestorm in neighboring Barnegat Township this past week. This story has gained national attention.
Barnegat Mayor Alfonso "Al" Cirulli is all in favor of prayer at the opening of the Barnegat Committee meetings. In fact, the meetings have opened with prayer for many years.
Cirulli has come into prominence recently in regards to his statements about the new curriculum in regards to LGBTQ students in middle and high school.
The mayor expressed his displeasure because parents can’t opt their children out of a curriculum mandated by a new state law. Starting in the 2020-2021 school year, public schools will be required to incorporate the contributions of LGBTQ community members into various subject matters.
Cirulli used time during the August Barnegat Township Committee meeting to express what he called his own comments and not reflective of the entire Committee. However, some said that Cirulli’s references to God in his presentation made them feel like they were in church – rather than at a government meeting.
During the Public Comments section of the meeting, Barnegat resident Marianne Clemente admonished the Mayor, “You bring Jesus Christ into your speeches when you speak to the town,” she said.
Clemente termed Cirulli’s remarks as totally inappropriate, saying, “We have a division of church and state in this country.”
Meanwhile, outrage by some has also brought up questions regarding the invocation that follows the roll call and precedes the Pledge of Allegiance in starting Barnegat Township Committee meetings. Barnegat resident, Glenn Swank, Senior Pastor of Barnegat Bay Assembly of God offered the invocation at the August Township Committee meeting.
The Pastor’s prayer concluded with the words, “I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.”
While some questioned the legality of an invocation at all in government meetings, the United States Supreme Court has already decided the issue. In 2014, the nation’s highest court ruled in the matter of Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling found that legislative prayer “lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.”
The Supreme Court concluded that invocations do not violate the Constitution as long as the prayer opportunity wasn’t used to “exploit(ed).. to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.”
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pat Sharkey is owner and publisher of TAPinto Stafford-LBI and TAPinto Barnegat-Waretown. Sharkey can be contacted at email@example.com