A Civil Discussion on an Issue That Divides; Forum on Public Prayer at UNF Shows Diversity of Opinion

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Byline: Matt Soergel

Organizers of a community discussion on civil discourse and public prayer achieved their main objective Tuesday evening - the conversation was civil and wide-ranging.

Agreement was not achieved, not on such a controversial topic. But that was not the goal, noted moderator John Delaney, president of the University of North Florida, where the discussion was held.

Speakers on both sides of the issue mounted strong defenses.

UNF political science professor David Schwam-Baird, one of 11 panel members, argued against prayer before legislative meetings such as the Jacksonville City Council. As a non-believer - a position held by one in five Americans, according to a recent Pew study - he thinks prayer is unneeded at such an event.

"Respect the places where prayer is appropriate and respect the places where it is not," said Ron Baker, pastor of Russell Baptist Church, who introduced himself as "the flagpole guy from Clay County," referring to the county School Board ordering him last year not to lead prayer on school property before classes. …