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Monday, May 10, 2010 - 4:15pm

Agency: Prayer Ban a Misunderstanding

A misunderstanding appears to be behind a brouhaha in Port Wentworth over whether seniors at a senior center can say a communal prayer before eating federally-funded meals.

The non-profit agency handing out those meals last week told seniors they had to change prayer to a moment of silence.

The agency said, they were doing so based on guidelines from the state Department of Human Services.

But after receiving "clarification" late Monday from DHS's new head of Aging Services, James Bulot, they reversed course.

"Even as recently as two weeks ago, we were told that a moment of silence was as far as we could go," says Patty Lyons, head of the Savannah-based Senior Citizens, Inc.  "I'm so pleased that Dr. Bulot reviewed the regulation."

The ban on public prayer at the senior citizens center sparked quick denunciations by politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Eric Johnson.

"When the federal government in D.C. decides to tell the good folks here at the Port Wentworth Senior Citizens Center they can’t lead a prayer before a meal, they’ve gone too far," Johnson said.

Bulot told GPB that he was unaware of any federal regulation prohibiting public prayer before meals at senior centers.

Bulot issued the clarification and the non-profit agency reversed course after GPB and other news organizations contacted the two parties.