Trib: “ACLU, ministerium happy with Monroeville’s moment-of-silence decision”

The Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium was featured in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

ACLU, ministerium happy with Monroeville’s moment-of-silence decision

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Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, 8:09 p.m.
Updated 20 hours ago

Political and religious leaders in Monroeville say they anticipate positive changes from the municipality’s decision to replace prayer at its council meetings with a moment of silence.

Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which threatened a lawsuit on behalf of a resident who complained to the group, said it is pleased that Monroeville Council chose this month to open meetings with silent contemplation instead of allowing local religious leaders to pray on a rotating basis.

“We think (silence is) the most inclusive option,” said Sara Rose, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Pittsburgh office. “It allows everyone to pray or not pray.”

Monroeville resident Josh Allenberg filed a complaint last fall with the ACLU when he did not get a response from officials after asking to recite a Jewish prayer at a council meeting during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays.

Allenberg said he sent the request to municipal Manager Tim Little, who forwarded the request to Mayor Greg Erosenko.

Allenberg said Erosenko offered to set up a time to talk, but the meeting never happened.

“I’m completely on board with the council’s actions,” Allenberg said. “It seemed like the easiest, common-sense answer for everybody.”

Erosenko expressed unhappiness with the way the issue was presented to council and the threat of a lawsuit.

“I don’t want to make the ACLU any richer,” he said at the Jan. 12 council meeting when the issue was decided. “They’re an organization I’m disappointed in.”

Several council members thanked residents, religious leaders and the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium for speaking out about the issue.

Although some council members expressed disappointment at dropping public prayer from the meetings, they acknowledged that times have changed.

“My heart tells me to continue what we’ve been doing,” Councilman Ron Harvey said, “but I believe the ministerium is sending us in the right direction.”

Temple David Rabbi Barbara Symons, who heads the ministerium, said she’s glad council voted for inclusiveness.

“We feel that we spoke of and modeled diversity of religions within Monroeville, and council was able to hear that,” Symons said.

“We think this is a vote for the strength of Monroeville.”

Symons said she hopes that having more people praying will lead to a better community.

“Part of the efficacy of prayer is what we do with it,” she said. “The hope is that we can put our prayers into action.”

A newly formed “community conversation” group involves members of the ministerium, local officials and business leaders.

The group will hold book readings, open to the public, at locations around the community, beginning in March.

The books will be related to issues in Monroeville such as poverty.

“The ministerium is trying to think about how to better understand our neighbors’ needs in Monroeville,” Symons said.

“Together we can talk about what we can do.”

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-871-2369 or ebalser@tribweb.com.


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