City of Winter Garden reinstates opening prayer

City previously voted to stop prayer after man escorted out

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – After banning an opening prayer at the start of city meetings, commissioners in Winter Garden voted to reinstate prayer over the current moment of silence.

Commissioners decided 4-1 to bring back the opening prayer. Now, anyone can begin meetings at City Hall -- people of all religions, non-religions and even Satanists.

Commissioners held their last moment of silence Thursday evening, which they had been doing in place of prayer for the past seven months after a confrontation between the mayor and a citizen caused a heated debate over religion in government.

Joseph Richardson remained seated during the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance last August. His refusal to stand upset Mayor John Rees, who had police remove Richardson from the meeting.

[RELATED: Man kicked out over pledge]

Rees later apologized, and the city soon enacted a policy of silence instead of prayer.

The new policy promises to be more inclusive with a rotating list of eligible speakers chosen by the city. Commissioners voted from seven options, including not making any vote and keeping the current policy, which is a moment of silence.

Ultimately, they chose the following:

"Full database. Invocation speakers selected by members of the City Commission on a rotating basis from a wide pool of local clergy and organization or group leaders, including ministers, priests, chaplains, rabbis, deacons, clerics and the like, whose organizations are included in a database, prepared by the city manager, where the database is prepared using congregations and other groups and organizations with an established presence in the city covering different religions, denominations, faiths, creeds and beliefs."

But not all are convinced the new policy will work.

"I hope that the diversity that they're hoping for, that they're proclaiming, will be evident among the speakers that get invited to do the invocation," said Richardson, who said he was disappointed with the decision.

Others said the new policy will require the city to invite members of all faiths and non-believers; from Muslims, Jewish, Atheists, Pantheists, Hindus, Satanists, Buddhists and even "The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," as one speaker noted.

The hope now is that the majority will tolerate minority views.

"I think as long as the city does not prevent anyone from doing an invocation, because they're not a leader of a religious organization, then we'll be fine," said David Williamson, president of the Central Florida Freethought Community.