NORWAY — Selectmen on Thursday unanimously agreed to open the annual town meeting with a prayer and to have a moment of silence before the start of each board meeting.

Selectman Michael Twitchell has volunteered to lead the prayer at the June 18 annual town meeting.

“Maybe it’s a compromise,” Selectman Russ Newcomb said. He made the motion, which was seconded by Selectman Irene Millett.

Two weeks ago, the board tabled a discussion about prayer at the start of each board meeting until they could determine a fair, respectful and all encompassing way to do it.

Town Manager David Holt had warned the board at the initial meeting that the town attorney cautioned him that should the selectmen institute the weekly prayer, and if they were challenged in court, the town would probably lose the case.

The discussion was initiated by a petition signed by some 125 parishioners of area churches attesting to their faith in prayer and God. The petition was in response to a question posed by a local newspaper on whether there should be open prayer at municipal meetings.

Holt, who had been asked to write some guidelines following the initial discussion, came back to board members Thursday night, saying he preferred to hear a little more discussion about the idea of saying prayers before each board meeting. He said he has wrestled with the discussion,  asking himself why prayer would be any different than any other freedom of speech.

Holt said the process has to be fair and open and respectful of everyone’s beliefs.

Newcomb said he spoke with many people after the last meeting, including a pastor from Norway who oversees a church in another community. Newcomb said the pastor didn’t feel comfortable having a prayer before every selectmen’s meeting but did agree a prayer before town meeting would be appropriate.

In an attempt to be fair and open to all religions, Newcomb said he believed his compromise motion might work.

Millett said she agreed with the motion. It would ensure fairness and openness in the process and distract some who might criticize the board for praying at every board meeting, she said.

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