Controversy Over Mayor's Decision to Cancel Prayer at City Council Meetings

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This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 20, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Watch "The O'Reilly Factor" weeknights at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and listen to the "Radio Factor!"

LAURA INGRAHAM, GUEST HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight: the culture war wages on in small-town America.

The Republican mayor of Southport, Indiana, put an end to a long-standing tradition of saying a Christian prayer at the beginning of City Council meetings. He replaced it with a moment of silence, causing outrage among citizens and council members.

The mayor was scheduled to appear this evening on "The Factor" but backed out at the last minute. Brave. Apparently, he was too afraid to come on. But Indianapolis radio talk show host Abdul Hakim-Shabazz joins us now, and he's not afraid of the mayor or anyone else.

Abdul, good to see you. How are you?

ABDUL HAKIM-SHABAZZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Doing fine, Laura. How are you?

INGRAHAM: Take us back to Rob Thoman's election. He's elected mayor of Southport. Comes in. He's a Republican. OK. With Republicans like these I don't think — we don't need Democrats. But he comes in and he decides to do away with this prayer that's been around for, I guess, 17 years. Who was offended by this prayer as far as you can tell?

HAKIM-SHABAZZ: From what I've been able to gather — and I actually spoke to the mayor today. We chatted for about half an hour to get some perspective from him. And from what I've been able to gather at these city meetings, there's about 30 or so people who were sort of outraged about the whole deal.

Now, what's interesting, in all due fairness to the mayor, is for many of these meetings in Southport only about maybe three or four people would show up on a good day when they were talking about things like economic development, property taxes and urban life. You know, talk about prayer and three dozen people show up and get mad. So that's to put things a little bit in perspective.

INGRAHAM: But who was offended initially? That's my question. I mean, maybe they need to pray to get more people to come to the meetings. But who was offended initially? I mean, why take this action? I never understand this. It seems to be working at cross purposes with just fostering a good sense of, you know, like a community and then making a good impression. I don't get this. Who was offended by this prayer that has been going on for 17 years?

HAKIM-SHABAZZ: Well, what the mayor had told me was that he was approached by some city employees who, by the nature of their job, actually had to attend these City Council meetings. And so some of them had said, "Hey, Mr. Mayor, I don't necessarily feel comfortable with some of the prayers that we're doing."

And so the mayor did some checking, and they found out they're also potentially facing an ACLU lawsuit. The mayor told me today just writing an answer to the lawsuit, as you know — you're an attorney just like me — would have bankrupted the city, just writing the answer alone.

So he decided to go for a couple of reasons. No. 1, avoid the legal fight, and No. 2, go for the moment of silence. That way everybody could sort of pray in their own way before they got the meeting started.

INGRAHAM: Now Abdul, just for the record, you happen to be Muslim but you're not really offended by this old prayer that's now been done away with, right?

HAKIM-SHABAZZ: I smoke cigars and drink whiskey and eat bacon, so I don't get offended by much.

INGRAHAM: Wait a second. Wait a second. That doesn't count then. Come on. You're supposed to be offended and you're supposed to be threatening lawsuits and you're supposed to be threatening to sit-in the meeting and not let it go forward.

This is what I don't understand. This only serves, Abdul, to tick off people who actually like the prayer. And then to what end? I don't understand to what end. Who's helped by this doing away with the prayer? No one. It just ticks people off for no reason.

HAKIM-SHABAZZ: I think what it does do, Laura, though in the long run it defends and protects the city from litigation. Now, the tricky thing will be to see if the citizens, you know, stay engaged and still show up at these meetings, because remember, up until they had the prayer controversy only three or four people actually showed up.

INGRAHAM: All right, Abdul. Fascinating story. We'll keep following it. Thanks for being with us.

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