Tammy Mutasa, NBC 5 Rowlett Reporter
Rowlett city leaders say they'll make no changes to their policy that allows for an invocation before council meetings, and while atheists oppose the prayers, some residents say they'll hold a prayer vigil in support of the council.
A prayer vigil before the Tuesday's Rowlett City Council meeting was planned in the middle of a debate between the city of Rowlett and a group of atheists who want to stop Christian prayers before council meetings.
Rowlett Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Michael Gallops tells NBC 5 that about a hundred people showed up to Tuesday night’s city council meeting and a dozen residents spoke in favor of keeping the pre-council prayer at future council meetings.
An atheist group spoke to NBC 5 about challenging the Rowlett City Council to stop invocation prayers before council meetings arguing that the prayer is discriminatory, while some residents support city council’s pre-meeting prayers.
Gallops said that of the hundred or so residents in attendance on Tuesday, none of them spoke in support of the atheist group that demanded the prayers stop.
"We're for unity, we're for peace, we're for joy, we're for love," said Shane Pruitt from Connection Community Church, one of the Rowlett pastors heading the prayer vigil. "There has been a lot of disunity on both sides, there's been a lot of people claiming to be Christians who've said some very hurtful things, there's been a lot of people who claim to be atheists that say some hurtful things."
"If there was a mosque in this city we would very much want the Imam to be involved, if there was a synagogue in this city, we would love the priests to be involved," said Pruitt.
On Monday, city leaders told NBC 5 the policy welcomes all established religious groups.
Rowlett resident Fred Witzell, a blogger who helped organize the pre-council prayer rally, says a few anti-prayer supporters were present outside city hall prior to the meeting but never came inside to join the meeting.
Gallops said Monday that the “established bodies of religion in Rowlett are Christians.”
The atheist organization, Metroplex Atheists, working with Rowlett residents said they would not attend Tuesday's council meeting. They said they are still planning their next move and waiting to regroup key members in challenging the city.
"It really doesn't matter what the policy says because what they're doing is having sectarian prayer--Christian prayer at a governmental meeting," said Terry McDonald from the Metroplex Atheists.
Any established religious group can pray before council meetings under a modified policy, but the city said Rowlett is made up of mostly Christian groups. The city changed its prayer policy in 2010 after someone anonymously complained to the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
"Minorities rights are being violated and we're just trying to stand up for that," McDonald said.
The group says they've been talking with the Freedom from Religion Foundation that managed to get the city to change their prayer policy in 2010.