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2012-04-05

To pray or not to pray - is that the question?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A religious flap featured on the front page of the Friday, March 30, edition of the San Antonio Express-News and during a KABB Fox San Antonio newscast later that evening underscored the adage "No news is good news" for the tiny municipality.

The latest Bandera brouhaha began when Pastor Greg Young, formerly of the Family Christian Center, 2036 Highway 16 North, was stopped from delivering a prayer during the visitors comment section of a Bandera City Council meeting. At a meeting on Feb. 16, Young had used the visitors comment section as an opportunity to pray for wisdom for city council during an executive session that dealt with purchasing a backup system for municipal computers.

No prayers in public forum
On March 1, Mayor Horst Pallaske announced that prayers were "prohibited" during the visitors' comment agenda item. At the onset of that meeting, Brother Butch Eby of the Gideons had delivered the invocation that traditionally opens each council meeting. Later, Pallaske apparently apologized to Young for the abrupt way he handled what had become an increasingly awkward situation.

In addition, city resident Rilla Stephens apologized publically to Young for the way the incident was handled.

In response, Young sent a letter to city council members in mid-March that discussed being relieved of his self-appointed municipal ministerial duties. According to the letter, Young began delivering - on a voluntary basis - invocations at council meetings in April; however, at no time did council formally sanction his appointment as city chaplain.

Moreover, in the document, Young included a decidedly un-Christian assessment of Eby's ministerial credentials, writing, "Butch is not a minister."

In fact, Gideons International includes members from many Protestant denominations; however, all have a common interest in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their important core beliefs include that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.

'Antagonistic' suggestion

In his letter, Young wrote: "Let me say that after I was relieved of my duties several prominent citizens and those serving in official capacities suggested that each and every week I stand and pray during the visitor portion." However, Young added, he did not intend to take their suggestions because to do so might be construed as "antagonistic."

During a Dec. 15 public hearing, Young had resolved to "shake the dust off his feet and walk away." He was referring to the Biblical passage Luke 9:5, which states, in the American King James Version, "And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them."

Young apparently has had second thoughts, however, on walking away because in public venues, he has failed to rule out continuing to pray during the visitors comment section or filing a lawsuit against the city for "our right to express our Christian heritage in a public forum."

Free speech infringement

In the letter sent to council, Young wrote, "These actions (of prohibiting prayer during the visitors' comment section) directly infringe upon my constitutional rights to free speech.

In addition to this the animosities and potential damage to my reputation in being removed without explanation deserve an explanation and perhaps even a public apology."

In the letter, Young also included a legal opinion from the American Center for Law and Justice regarding Pallaske's statement limiting free speech during the visitors comment portion of the meeting. The legal opinion is available at

http://aclj.org/prayer/public-prayer


Young contacted the ACLJ after feeling his Constitutional right to free speech had been violated.

The idea of the city being embroiled in a lawsuit of this kind has former Young supporter Rilla Stephens up in arms.

"I can't believe we might have to waste taxpayers' money on something like this. I would not think this is what a man of God would do," she said. "I advocate prayer, but not sermons, in schools and public forums. However, I don't understand why it has had to come to this. In my opinion, this is not city business."

While city resident and a director of the Bandera Economic Development Corporation Don Clark also supports prayer, he declined to participate in the public imbroglio. Clark recently purchased the Family Christian Center building and property. The building is now being renovated and will reopen as the non-denominational Shady Oaks Baptist Church with Pastor Jerry Kral leading the congregation.

Private meetings

On March 15, Young, along with Kral, met with Pallaske, municipal attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells and City Administrator Mike Cardenas. Although expressly invited by Young, a local newspaper was not allowed to attend the private meeting.

During the confab, Boulware-Wells reportedly opined that Pallaske could not prohibit prayers during the public comment section if the meeting was opened with an invocation. After hearing this, Pallaske weighed possible abolishment of the opening invocation at city council meetings altogether.

According to Boulware-Wells, Pallaske has legal authority to discontinue both the invocation and public comment section from city council meetings.

On Thursday, March 22, Young attended a second meeting, this time bringing with him the owner of a local resale shop as a representative. Young met with Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher and Cardenas. At that time, Young was disabused of his belief that Pastor Joel Garcia, who offered opening prayers at Bandera County Commissioners Court until his retirement in April 2011, had also delivered invocations at city council. In fact, former City Administrator Gene Foerster led the prayers.

Throughout the meeting, Schumacher reiterated that she had always objected to Young delivering the invocation exclusively. "The city should not be associated with just one church or pastor," she said in an interview, "and my stance on that remains unchanged."

Young then offered to set up pastors on a rotating basis, but Schumacher declined his assistance,
saying, "That is the city's responsibility."

Tempest in teapot

Commenting on the city's latest "tempest in a teapot," Councilman John Hegemier said, "I don't want to continue giving Greg Young a platform on which to promote his business. I say let him pray. In fact, let everyone pray. Bandera needs all the blessings it can get.

And if we don't start discussing city business until 9 pm, so be it."

Interestingly, County Judge Richard Evans also thwarted an attempt by Young to use the public forum during commissioners court meetings as a prayer platform.

"We've had enough prayer for one meeting," Evans replied in response to Young's offer to say an additional invocation. Subsequently, commissioners appointed Eby as chaplain to commissioners court, citing his outreach work at the county jail.

Pictured: Bandera resident Don Clark recently purchased the Family Christian Center, located on Highway 16 North. The church was formerly lead by Pastor Greg Young, who is currently embroiled in a flap over public prayer with the City of Bandera. When the building is renovated, Clark will open it as the non-denominational Shady Oaks Baptist Church with Pastor Jerry Kral at its spiritual helm.