Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New Invocation Policy Includes Indemnification Waiver for All Council Members

After several months of research, debate and controversy, Galloway Township Council finally approved a new Invocation Policy. This policy will now supersede a previous policy sponsored by former Mayor Keith Hartman. The previous policy allowed for a specific rotation of local clergy to give an invocation during each council meeting.
The new policy adopted only allows the invocation to be delivered by a member of council. The policy states, "the Municipal Clerk will offer to each member of Council on a rotating basis the opportunity to offer one of the invocations on the attached list at the beginning of the Council meeting at the time identified for the Invocation." The policy also allows any member of Council to request a moment of silence to allow for private prayer or meditation by those present. 

The full policy and approved lists of prayers are below.

The policy shall also not obligate any member of Council to offer an invocation. The council member can privately confirm with the Clerk that they wish not to deliver the invocation. Council will offer the invocation on a rotating list. If no council member wishes to offer an invocation at the meeting, than a moment of silence shall be held in place of the invocation.

The new policy includes a indemnification waiver. The provision states, "In the event of the filing of any litigation or other claim against a member of council based upon an invocation offered by such member of Council which is not in accordance with this Policy, the indemnification of such member of Council may be subject to denial pursuant to Section 27-3 of the Galloway Township Code."  

If Council opts to not cover one of their own, that individual Council member, current or future council members could be subject to their own costs to defend the litigation placed against them. 

We requested comment from members of council requesting if any member felt this policy restricted their First Amendment right for Freedom of Speech. Councilman Jim McElwee, who is also a member on the committee in order to propose this policy stated, "we all have to curb our language everyday in certain situations rather it being polite or just to avoid problems."

The liability that could potentially mount against a council member who may deviate from the approved list of prayers could be financially struggling. "No other member of council has expressed concern to me over indemnification vulnerability" McElwee stated. "It's very simple, don't add anything that has not been pre-approved by the Solicitor. If you want to add something you can as long as it's reviewed for legal liability."

All other requests for comment went unanswered, including from the committee's chairman, Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola. 


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