By Linda Dillman
To pray or not to pray? That’s the question facing Canal Winchester City Council as it considers adding an invocation to open its future meetings.
After a debate, council’s rules committee – comprised of Patrick Lynch, Mike Coolman and Jill Amos – proposed a rules change allowing for a moment of reflection in lieu of a prayer or invocation as previously requested by Councilman Mike Walker.
The ordinance deciding the fate of the amendment was up for a first reading before full council on June 18. However, once the ordinance was read, Walker proposed to amend the ordinance to allow for an invocation instead of a moment of silence.
“The last seven presidents, starting with Eisenhower, gave a prayer at their inauguration speech,” said Walker. “Congress and the Senate open with an invocation. I’ve done a lot of research, a lot of homework to make it easier if it would be considered. We’re one of the cities who don’t do this.”
In comparison, neighboring Groveport City Council does not do an invocation, opting for a moment of silence instead to open its meetings.
A vote was taken and the motion ended in a tie. Councilman Will Bennett said he was curious as to why no discussion was held prior to Walker making the amendment when the ordinance was first read.
Council President Bruce Jarvis took responsibility for not holding a discussion prior to the vote.
“It’s my fault,” said Jarvis, “but this was out of the norm. The rules committee was expected to look at how an invocation could be incorporated, not whether to do it or change it to something else.”
Walker said there is “plenty of support” for the idea for ministers and priests in the area to come to meetings and give an invocation.
“There was concern on who would give the invocation,” said Walker. “Since then, I’ve talked with Crossroads Church. They’ve offered to have one of their ministers here every meeting of the year, if we wish. Also, I’ve talked to the president of the ministerial association for Lithopolis and Canal Winchester. They’re supportive as well.”
Amos told Walker she appreciated his effort in asking local churches and organizations, but there is nothing preventing anyone else, Christian or non-Christian, from also asking to offer a prayer or invocation.
Law Director Gene Hollins said there are certain limitations regarding rules allowing an invocation/prayer at public meetings.
“There are some pretty good parameters around how to do it without proselytizing for one particular religion or one particular denomination,” said Hollins. “If we went forward, certainly we’d have to keep our eye on the ball.”
Lynch said the committee also looked at the logistics of coordinating an invocation/prayer—not just what’s being said—but also keeping the language as non-denominational as possible.
“It has to be open to every denomination out there,” said Lynch, “whether it be Christian, Hindu or Jewish. Everything has to represented. Who is going to coordinate this on a bi-weekly basis? How do we open it up to all these different religions so we’re not being biased? I don’t believe we can have one church being represented here as we are a public body. That was my thought and the consensus of the committee.”
Lynch felt if the ministerial association coordinated the invocation/prayer, then the city is relying on an outside organization doing council business.
When Bennett asked if the bi-weekly coordination would result in additional work for council clerk and Finance Director Amanda Jackson, Mayor Mike Ebert said, “Yes.”
“We’re just on the first reading,” said Hollins. “You’ll be looking at it for another month before the third reading.”
Amos said she wanted to take into consideration comments made during the meeting. She told Walker she knew he wanted closure on the issue, but felt there were still too many unanswered questions.
Walker withdrew his motion to amend the ordinance, which is up for a second reading during the council’s July 2 meeting, before council goes on hiatus for the July 16 meeting.